Health experts share need for more COVID-19 testing in Indiana as positivity rates increase

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INDIANAPOLIS – In late October, local leaders warned more restrictive measures could be on the way in Marion County if the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett urged people to get tested if they’ve been exposed – even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. They also encouraged anyone who lives with high-risk individuals to get tested regularly.

Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said the recent challenge faced by the community is the positivity rate, which has been steadily increasing since the end of September.

On Oct. 29, the positivity rate was around 7 percent. Right now, it stands at about 9.9 percent for a seven-day positivity rate for all tests conducted.

To understand the extent of the COVID-19 spread, health experts say there is a need for more testing to be done, but that it is dependent on people willing to go get tested.

“We need to have a better understanding of what is the nature of the spread, are people within their own homes infecting themselves, is this happening at the workplace, is it happening at schools, etc. so trying to get a better understanding of the nature of the spread is very important,” said Dr. Shaun Grannis, vice president of Data and Analytics at the Regenstrief Institute.

Grannis said finding individuals who are positive – whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic – could give a better understanding of community spread.

“Getting more people to be tested, I don’t think at this stage is a question of capacity, it’s a question of the population’s cognizance of the need to be tested,” said Grannis.

He said it is important to be tested if you have been exposed, and that anyone experiencing symptoms of the virus should be tested.

“We work very closely with our local public health officials, in particular, Marion County,” said Grannis. “In fact, we have regular phone calls with them to talk about where we’re at, what’s the current strategy, what do we see happening in the future.” He said their goal is to provide the best data possible so that decision-makers can make their best-informed decisions for themselves.

Grannis explained although testing rates are trending back up again, the positivity rates are also doing the same.

“Right now, we’re seeing the testing rates go up and we’re also seeing the positivity rate go up. That tells us there’s more disease in the community and we can also see that by the daily test positive rates where we’ve been close to 5,000 new cases in a single day,” said Grannis.

“The way that we look at the testing positive rate is the following: we know if we increase the amount of testing that we’re doing and the positivity rate goes down that tells us that they’re likely isn’t as much disease spread,” he explained.

On average, just over 30,000 people per day are being tested in Indiana. According to the Regenstrief Institute, Indiana is not at the optimal testing rate per capita.

The research institute said the recommended level is around 500 people tested for every 100,000 people. They said right now, Indiana remains at approximately 400 people tested per 100,000 people.

“It is really important to getting our control of COVID in Indiana to identify it as quick as we can so that we can quarantine and isolate people,” said Kristen Kelley, Nursing Director of Infection Prevention at Indiana University Health.

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