Indiana National Guard to help conduct COVID-19 testing as demand skyrockets

Indiana health officials said Wednesday they will use the National Guard to help communities deal with a skyrocketing demand for COVID-19 testing that has led to hours-long waits at many sites.

The state will embed Guard members in local health departments to help conduct testing, said Dr. Kris Box, Indiana state health commissioner.

“We are literally pulling back many Guard members that we had given time to be with their families after 18 months (of the pandemic),” she said. “We are in the process of supporting local health departments. We have 53 of 94 of them that are actually doing testing. But they need help to do the amount of testing that they’re doing. So we will embed Guard members there.”

More than 10,200 individuals were tested for COVID-19 in Indiana on Tuesday, the highest daily testing number since late January.

The state health department will also reassign employees from routine jobs to testing and vaccinations while the delta surge continues, Box said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb acknowledged that people were waiting up to three hours at some sites to get tested as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climb across the state to levels not seen since early in the year.

“I’m actually encouraged that people are going to get tested,” he said during a press conference. “And that’s exactly where the state will be stepping up to make sure we can do our part.”

The demand for testing is surging just two months after the state shut down dozens of testing sites operated by an outside vendor, OptumServe.

The large-scale testing partnership was launched in April 2020 to make it easier for Hoosiers to get tested for the coronavirus and provide the health department with pandemic data.

At its peak, OptumServe, a division of health care insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, provided testing in 53 counties. At the time of the shutdown, 30 counties had an OptumServe testing site.

Many of the testing sites across the state were decreasing the amount and hours they were available to do testing, which has resulted in some prolonged waits and frustrations, Box said.

“I really apologize for the waits,” she said. “I know it’s frustrating.”

Another large reason for the surge, she said, is the start of school. Parents want their children who are symptomatic to get tested. Students that have been sent home with headaches or stomach aches also need to get a negative test before they can return to school.

On July 25, Indiana recorded about 1,500 people aged 19 or younger that tested positive. Just two weeks later, that number had surged to 4,200.

Box said the state health department is working to organize a group of health care professionals that could help do testing in schools. She is also asking all vaccine sites across the state to also provide COVID-19 testing.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

2 thoughts on “Indiana National Guard to help conduct COVID-19 testing as demand skyrockets

  1. Any chance we can train people receiving unemployment to do testing? Seems to me that if we have “nonessential” people sitting around on unemployment, we should use the available money and time to train them to become “essential.” Not only does society get some benefit from paying people to be on unemployment, but we can offer those workers for free [e.g., at government expense] to the test sites. And, this has the added benefit of not putting even more demands/strain on the people who are “essential.” Just a thought.

    1. I think the act of working would make them ineligible for unemployment because they’re considered to be employed conducting testing? I get your point, though.