Experts fear virus could jump Marion County boundaries

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INDIANAPOLIS — Its been two months since most Marion County residents have had a good dinner out.

For many suburban visitors it was mid-March when they last ventured into Indianapolis.

With Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine allowing stores to open at 50% capacity, malls to unlock their doors and restaurants to seat diners on the patio this weekend, experts tracking the coronavirus caution that the bug could be shared among Indianapolis residents who haven’t seen each other in weeks or travel back home with visitors to neighboring counties.

“Ideally that individual who travels to Marion County may have encountered some people and go home, those individuals can be identified and we can understand very quickly and isolate that particular outbreak very quickly,” said Dr. Shaun Grannis of the Regenstrief Institute.

“One of the things that we are also monitoring is the mobility, how much are people moving? Organizations like Google, Facebook, Apple, all have anonymous identified mobility information by region where we can actually monitor how much people are beginning to move again, and so that will be one way we can actually access the impact of the relaxation of the social distancing rules.”

With nearly 30% of the state’s positive test cases and COVID-19 deaths, Marion County remains far and away the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Indiana.

Hamilton, Johnson and Hendricks Counties are three of the top seven outbreak locations in the state.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, one out of every five of the Marion County residents who were tested came back positive for coronavirus, compared to 15.3% for the state overall.

Hamilton County’s positivity rate is 9.6%, Johnson County is at 18.3% and Hendricks County is at 20.6%, but those three suburban counties together total only about half of the number of tests conducted in Indianapolis.

Marion County’s density is greater than its neighbors and studies by the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI indicate there is a 12 times greater chance of contracting the virus from someone living in the same home.

At least 480 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus in Marion County as the disease is six times more likely to kill than common influenza according, to the Fairbanks study.

45% of those who recently tested positive showed no symptoms, a finding that worries analysts.

“As we open up, social distancing is one of our defenses,” said Dr. Grannis. “The other mechanism is the testing and contact tracing and the ability to quickly respond to any small outbreaks or pockets of new infection would be very important.”

Dr. Caine said last week that conducting between 1,500 and 2,200 tests per day in Marion County would give her a better picture of the virus’ prevalence in Indianapolis.

The State Health Department reported at noon today that in the previous 24 hours, 946 new tests were conducted in Marion County.

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