COVID-19 testing in Indiana remains sharply limited for foreseeable future

Widespread testing in Indiana for COVID-19 does not seem to be anywhere on the horizon, despite the strong sentiment of some doctors and the general public that testing be made more widely available.

Hospitals are continuing to restrict tests to high-risk people—those with strong symptoms and who may have been in contact with others who have tested positive for the disease.

That’s even as Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday issued a stay-at-home order for Hoosiers and warned that the epidemic is likely to grow more severe here in the next few weeks.

Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. began drive-thru testing Monday morning, but said only front-line health care workers, with a note from their doctors, would be eligible.

The company did not respond to several inquiries from IBJ about whether it planned to expand the testing to the general population.

The Indiana State Department of Health has repeatedly said it will not offer tests to people with mild or no symptoms, for fear of running out of limited supplies and overtaxing health-care workers.

Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner, said last week that if hospitals test a lot of people who are mildly ill and “don’t potentially need to be tested,” that could waste resources that should be used on the highest-risk people who need the tests.

Holcomb on Monday praised local hospitals and health care workers, but did not mention whether the state had changed its stance on testing the general population.

Lilly officials said last week they are ramping up production of testing, in conjunction with hospitals and nursing homes, to make more tests available—up to 1,000 a day within a week. But there is no indication that the test will be made available to the general public.

Meanwhile, health officials in New York, California and other hard-hit parts of the country are restricting coronavirus testing to health care workers and the severely ill, saying the battle to contain the virus is lost and the country is moving into a new phase of the pandemic response, according to the Washington Post.

Instead of encouraging broad testing of the public, many states are focused on conserving masks, ventilators and intensive care beds—and on getting still-limited tests to health-care workers and the most vulnerable. The shift is further evidence that rising levels of infection and illness have begun to overwhelm the health care system, the Post said.

But some Indiana health officials still believe the public should be widely tested to get a more accurate reading on how severe the outbreak is, and how it is growing.

“The problem is there are limited tests available so it is unfortunately being severely rationed,” Dr. Richard Feldman, director of medical education at Franciscan Health Indianapolis and former state health commissioner, said in an email to IBJ.

“It should be progressively liberalized as more tests become available,” Feldman said. “From a public health perspective, we cannot get the best handle on this unless we can identify those who are infected. This will also be important as we make progress in mitigation on a population basis and turn to case reporting on an individual basis to identify individuals infected and identify contacts to continue to contain the epidemic. “

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3 thoughts on “COVID-19 testing in Indiana remains sharply limited for foreseeable future

    1. Agreed! But don’t hold your breath for that to happen in Indiana (unless you’re very wealthy or famous).

  1. The implication of the testing shortage is that SOCIAL DISTANCING IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/03/23/coronavirus-count-confirmed-testing/ — the headline is more alarming than the content, which is cool-headed and realistic.

    Dr. Feldman is right too: testing will be critical as we try to move beyond simple isolation. The “cure” (social distancing) might turn out to be worse than the disease, but we won’t know till we can test randomly and often to track the course of the infections, including those who are carriers but not sick enough to be picked up by other means. Meanwhile, this cure is what we have. We can do it, though it’s hard.

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