By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — Lake and Porter counties in Northwest Indiana have been elevated to red status due to soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates.

The state health department places a county in red when its cases per 100,000 residents exceeds 200 and the COVID-19 test positivity rate is above 15%.  In Lake, those numbers are 770 per 100,000 and 15.8%; in Porter it’s 869 per 100,000 and 16.3%.  Newton County has been a red zone since last week, with  758 cases per 100,000 an 18.7%. The other two counties in the region, Jasper and LaPorte, are in orange, and already both well over the per capita minimum. A slight increase in test positivity will put both in red next week.  When a county is placed in red status, further restrictions of the numbers of people allowed at gatherings go into effect. Gov. Holcomb placed a 25-person limit on social gatherings for red counties. Social gatherings in orange counties, where spread is considered medium to high, are limited to 50 people.

At his weekly news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Holcomb said there would be no changes to his latest order on those limitations, which went into effect last weekend.

Across the region, there were 676 new cases and nine deaths. Lake County accounted for nearly 400 of those cases and seven deaths.

Statewide, Indiana reported 60 new deaths from COVID, and the seven day average of daily deaths is now equal to the average daily death toll for heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of people in Indiana. Nearly 5,100 Hoosiers have been killed by COVID-19 this year.

Hospitalizations are also rising at alarming rates, more than tripling since Oct. 1, and now at a record 3,040. The number of available ICU beds statewide has fallen to a dangerously low 21.7%.   In Northwest Indiana, there are a record 525 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 and ICU beds have dwindled to 20%.

The state reported, 6,143 new cases on Wednesday, the fourth-highest daily count since the start of the pandemic. There are 21 counties in the state that are ranked as red; all of the remaining counties are orange, except one in the southern part of the state.