The Indiana State Dept. of Health today announced it would collaborate with the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI to conduct a scientific study to measure the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.
The study will include random sample testing for SARS-CoV-2 viral infections and antibodies in select Indiana residents. The study aims to test a smaller, representative segment of the population that is statistically significant enough to infer a scientifically valid estimate of the spread of the virus in the total population.
To date, the state has largely only tested people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or are at a higher risk of experiencing health complications from the disease – those over 60 years old, health care workers, people with preexisting health conditions. But the state, at this time, has no way to determine what proportion of the overall population is or was previously infected. State officials said a better understanding of how many people have or have had the virus is needed so that they can match the state’s response accordingly.
The Fairbanks School of Public Health, an interdisciplinary team of IU scientists, physicians and epidemiologists, designed the study. A team at IU will analyze the study results and provide scientific interpretations of the data to the state.
According to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, the study will be one of the first of its kind. Today, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released preliminary findings of a similar study done in his state. Cuomo said the study found 13.9 percent of New York residents who participated in the study had antibodies for the virus, suggesting a similar percentage of New Yorkers have or have had the virus, with some variances based on where in New York residents live.
In total, at least 20,000 Hoosiers will be tested for the study, according to the ISDH. Members of the public are being asked to participate by invitation only, starting today, to ensure that the sampling is representative of the population at large. State officials said the validity of the study relies on resident participation. The test is free, and only those chosen will be able to participate in the study.
The ISDH and IU will perform random sampling of Hoosiers in tests conducted in four phases over the next year. The first round of testing will begin Saturday with a pool of at least 5,000 Indiana residents randomly selected from across Indiana’s 10 emergency preparedness districts – at least 5,000 Hoosiers will be tested in each phase. Additional phases of testing will take place in late May, in October 2020 and in April 2021. The study used a database of tax filers to determine who would be used in the study.
Tests used in the study will use nasopharyngeal swabs and blood draws. Nasopharyngeal swabs will be tested for COVID-19 within 72 to 96 hours, while the blood samples will be tested at a later date for antibodies to determine if an individual has had COVID-19 in the past, according to the ISDH. Indiana University Health and Eli Lilly and Co. will process nasal samples and report them back to the ISDH.
Dr. Nir Menachemi, professor and Fairbanks Endowed Chair in the Fairbanks School of Public Health and principal investigator on the study, said the first wave of tests would conclude Wednesday, and the state should have preliminary data to review in as few as three days following the department’s processing of the data, which he expected to only take days.
“What we don’t know is how bad each community within our state is infected or has been infected,” Menachemi said during a press conference. “Again, if we are only testing people with the most serious symptoms, it seems like we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg. What our study allows us to do is look below the water and see the entire iceberg and try to get a sense of how large it is and how it is affecting different communities perhaps differently.”
State officials said the study’s results would contribute to considerations of relaxing Holcomb’s stay-at-home executive order and other social-distancing policies. Holcomb has previously said he aims to relax portions or all of the executive order in early May.
Participants will be notified of their eligibility for the study by mail, text message, email or phone and will be directed to the testing site closest to their residence, according to the ISDH. Registrants will receive a unique code that they will show at the testing site as proof of participation. Testing for the study will be conducted at 8 fixed and 10 mobile sites around the state. Additional sampling may be added later depending on initial participation levels, according to the ISDH.
The Indiana National Guard, Indiana Dept. of Transportation, state EMS personnel and other state and private partners will provide testing support.
The ISDH today announced that 612 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing to 13,039 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to yesterday’s total.
A total of 706 Hoosiers have died to date – deaths are reported based on when data is received by the ISDH and occurred over multiple days.
To date, 72,040 tests have been reported to the ISDH, up from 69,470 on Wednesday.