Thirty-four local residents died from COVID-19 in December, and one person has died from the virus every day of 2021, according to state data reported Friday for Huntington County.

Between March and November – an eight-month period – only four people died with the novel coronavirus, Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) reports state. Huntington County has seen a total of 52 people die throughout the pandemic, and local leaders are urging residents to stay vigilant and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines while the county waits for more vaccines to be distributed.

“We were really lucky at the beginning of the pandemic. Everybody was being hyper vigilant and doing what they needed to do, like distancing and staying home, but I do think that people got pandemic fatigue a little bit,” Huntington County Public Health Nurse Emily Schamehorn said, adding that fatigue is understandable. “Recently they maybe didn’t follow the guidelines quite like they did at the beginning, and I think that’s been a problem all over the country and world. As a result of that, we’ve seen way more community spread since October.”

ISDH uses positivity rates to gage community spread. Positivity rates for “unique individuals” calculated by ISDH take the total number of positive individuals reported on a given day and divide that number by the total number individuals tested on that day, according to ISDH reports. The state then looks at a seven-day period to calculate a rate. This data is reported with a six-day lag to ensure more accurate results, ISDH says.

According to state data, the county’s seven-day positivity rate for unique individuals was 24.9 percent as of Friday’s deadline, but the rate was only 13.8 percent on Oct. 1.

“Our community spread has been high for a while, and as a result of that, we have seen more deaths,” Schamehorn said. “Unfortunately that’s just how it goes for a pandemic like this, especially one that is really detrimental to the older people of our community and people with health conditions. The high community spread just makes them even more vulnerable to the virus.”

More than 65 percent of all local COVID-19-related deaths have been attributed to people over the age of 80, ISDH says.

“A lot of those deaths are coming from the long-term care facilities,” Schamehorn said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were in really good shape compared to a lot of other places, but just like any virus or pandemic, it spreads.”

Three long-term care facilities in Huntington County have reported deaths to ISDH. According to that data, Heritage Pointe of Warren reported 18 deaths, Miller’s Merry Manor of Huntington reported 13 deaths and Heritage of Huntington reported less than five resident deaths.

“Now let me say, we do think our long term care facilities are doing an awesome job… They are doing everything they should be doing,” Schamehorn noted. “They are doing everything in their power to keep (COVID-19) out of their facilities, but sometimes there are things that happen that you just can’t help. With the pandemic and high community spread that’s what you’ll see.”

Schamehorn said she believes the community can lower its number of cases and spread by being more cautious and following CDC and health department guidance.

“If we can get as many people as we can to get vaccinated and as long as we adhere to the guidelines throughout the vaccination process… we can get back on track,” she said. “We can get our numbers back down. We can be healthier and safer if we just remain vigilant and do these things.”

Schamehorn stressed that even people who are vaccinated need to adhere to the CDC guidelines.

“You can still get COVID-19 even if you have the vaccine. You’re just not going to get as severe of a case and you’ll be less likely to get it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a mild case and give it to somebody else that could get really sick from it,” she said. “We still recommend all of the things that we have been promoting for almost a year now.”

CDC officials recommend staying 6 feet apart, wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, avoiding crowds, limiting travel, avoiding poorly ventilated indoor spaces, staying quarantined if you feel sick and getting tested. More information is available at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/.

If people return to following guidelines like before, Schamehorn says the county can avoid harsher restrictions. Huntington County is currently in the orange-level status based on ISDH metrics, but if the county’s positivity rate increases, the community will reach the red designation, which would limit crowd sizes and further local restrictions.