On Friday, the Kentucky COVID-19 incidence rate map showed a wide red band slicing through western Kentucky from Indiana to Tennessee.

Eleven counties with contiguous borders shared one thing in common: They were in the “critical” or red zone.

Ohio, McLean, Henderson, Union and Webster counties were part of the group. All are members of Green River Area Development District and Green River District Health Department.

Daviess and Hancock counties, also members of GRADD and GRDHD, were in the “accelerated” or orange zone Friday. However, a week ago, Daviess County spent a couple days in the red zone and flirted with it other days.

Muhlenberg County, which is not part of either agency, sits in the Messenger-Inquirer’s service area. Muhlenberg County also was in the red zone Friday.

Counties with that designation — the state’s highest level of infection — have at least 25 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus per day per 100,000 population. The metric is averaged over the previous seven days.

GRDHD Public Health Director Clay Horton said last week the red zone marks a dangerous turning point. Health experts know COVID-19 spreads easily, and the number of cases can quickly multiply out of control.

Ohio County Judge-Executive David Johnston is GRADD chairman. The high number of new cases in the district concerns GRADD members and has been a frequent topic of discussion, Johnston said.

“We’re doing everything we can to encourage everything we can to prevent the spread,” he said. “We’re still preaching wear masks, social distance, small groups, wash hands.”

When COVID-19 first hit in March, the source of new infections often could be linked to an event or a workplace, he said. That’s not the case anymore. It is widespread across communities.

“I’m not sure there is anything else we can do,” Johnston said.

Many residents in GRADD counties shop and seek entertainment in Evansville, Indiana.

“You’re seeing the exact same dynamic in southern Indiana,” Horton said.

There is a high rate of infection throughout the region, and no infectious disease respects state or county borders.

Statistics from the Harvard Global Health Institute show Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois — states that surround western Kentucky — have higher rates of infection than the commonwealth.

For months, health experts have informed the public about ways to lower the risk of infection, Horton said.

“Getting people to buy into that is the real challenge,” he said.

If residents of GRADD and GRDHD consistently adopted the proper behaviors — wearing face masks in public, staying at least 6 feet from people who are not members of their households, washing hands thoroughly and not gathering in groups larger than 10 — the rate of infection would drop, Horton said.

The public knows the actions to take to lower the risk of infection, he said.

“Collectively, we must decide we’re going to do it,” Horton said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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