Indiana Begins Randomly Testing Hoosiers for COVID-19 Infection and Antibodies

During Thursday’s daily briefing from Indiana’s Governor, Eric Holcomb, we learned that Indiana will start testing Hoosiers all across the state in random fashion, in order to help the state’s health officials figure out exactly how prevalent COVID-19 is and has been in the state of Indiana, including in people who were never previously tested and in those who never showed symptoms of the virus. 

Indiana health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box said during Thursday’s briefing that the state is partnering with the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis to conduct a study “that will examine the prevalence of COVID-19 among Hoosiers.”

Dr. Box said that this study will help “give us better understanding of the extent to which individuals are showing antibodies that indicate signs of past infection.”

Conducting such a study could help the state figure out how to safely re-open the state’s businesses and overall economy, and it will also help the state “determine what new normal mode of operation really looks like.” The data collected in this study will also have a large impact on how the state chooses to handle social-distancing guidelines in the future.

The antibody testing will start this Saturday, April 25th, and run through Wednesday, April 29th. Random Hoosiers will be selected to participate in these tests, but those running the study say they have been careful to make sure “they accurately reflect racial, ethnic, and geographic demographics of our state.” 

Letters began going out to the people selected for this study on Thursday, the day this announcement was made.

Dr. Box continued by urging Hoosiers to take part in this study, if they are selected, as they need to make sure the data “accurately reflects Indiana’s population, as we use it in decision-making for our state.”

Dr. Nir Menachemi, Chair of Public Health at the Fairbanks School of Public Health, also spoke at Thursday’s briefing, elaborating on the process of testing Hoosiers all across our state and using that data to make future policy decisions.

Dr. Meneachemi explained how “together, with the state, we are taking a critical step towards understanding how COVID-19 has affected the population of Indiana.”

Dr. Menachemi explained to the briefing’s audience that, up until now, testing has only occurred in the state of Indiana on patients who were severely ill, those who are at high-risk of contracting the virus, and those who are considered essential employees, including healthcare workers. He explained that these tests were done to help doctors make decisions about individual patients and clinical settings, such as a hospital, as well as congregate settings, such as nursing homes and prisons.

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However, because the testing in Indiana has been limited to these few groups of people, Dr. Menachemi explained “we lack an understanding of how many people in our state have been infected, especially if they were not formally tested or had no symptoms.”

We will obtain scientifically valid results of the proportion of state residents that are currently infected, regardless of symptoms, and those that may have already been infected with the virus, based on antibodies. We will finally obtain an understanding of the true prevalence of COVID-19.

The individuals we will test have been selected randomly to represent everyone in the state above the age of 12. Each selected individual will be asked to volunteer their participation, with parental approval, as necessary. Those agreeing will provide both a nasal swab, to test for active viral infection, and a blood draw, to allow for antibody testing.

Whereas existing tests have supported clinical decisions of individual patients, our approach will allow for a community-level understanding of the virus’ impact. This will enable better evidence-based policies, including the complex decisions surrounding social-distancing orders.

It was also explained that this testing study will include four different phases, and they’re hoping they will be able to test 5,000-7,000 Hoosiers in each one of those phases. Dr. Menachemi said the testing will occur in “waves” going into the future, and that each testing “wave” will take place “months apart.” This will allow them to witness how the prevalence of COVID-19 in Indiana changes over time.

This first phase is set to start on Saturday, April 25th.

The second phase will start around May 23rd, 2020.

The third phase will take place sometime in October of 2020.

The final phase is not scheduled to take place until April of 2021.

Indiana is one of the first states to adopt such a study, and Dr. Menachemi says that “by being one of the first states, we will get a head start in understanding the epidemic’s true trajectory, identify and address disparities, and be able to make wiser decisions on how to deploy our limited resources.”

As previously stated, the letters have already started being delivered to those chosen to participate in the first phase of this study, and testing will be taking place from Saturday, April 25th, through Wednesday, April 29th.

Only those who have been chosen to participate will be able to get a test at the drive-through testing sites set up by the state.


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