State announces study findings, estimated coronavirus prevalence


Preliminary results from the first phase of a scientific study show about 2.8 percent of the state’s population is estimated to have COVID-19 or have previously had it.

In April, the Indiana State Dept. of Health announced it would collaborate with the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI to conduct a scientific study to help determine the spread of the new coronavirus.

For the first phase of the study, researchers tested 4,611 Hoosiers between April 25 and May 1 for viral infections and antibodies of the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19. The participants includes more than 3,600 residents who were randomly selected and an additional 900 volunteers recruited through outreach to the African American and Hispanic communities to more accurately represent state demographics, according to the ISDH.

“Ideally, you know, we would like to test every single Hoosier,” Paul Halverson, founding dean of the Fairbanks School of Public Health, said during a virtual press briefing, “but the next best thing to doing that is random-sample testing, a scientific approach that allows us to confidently assess how COVID-19 has spread in Indiana without really having to test everyone, which is just not feasible.

After preliminary analysis, researchers determined 1.7 percent of participants tested positive for the virus and an additional 1.1 percent tested positive for antibodies of the virus during the last week of April. The study’s estimated the statewide population prevalence of the virus is 2.8 percent – approximately 186,000 Hoosiers – as of May 1.

The state’s testing registered more than 19,000 cumulative cases as of May 1, suggesting only about one of every 10 true infections were identified by tests focused on symptomatic or high-risk residents.

Researchers showed the study’s findings suggest 0.58 percent of infected residents have died from the disease, a figure almost six times more deadly than the seasonal flu, which has an infection-fatality rate of 0.1, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The analysis also showed 44.8 percent of people infected with the virus reported no symptoms. The study marks the first estimate of asymptomatic residents in Indiana. The study also found non-white and Hispanic residents contracted the virus more prevalently than white residents.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the high percentage of asymptomatic carriers underscores the importance of mask use in public, indoor spaces to reduce the spread of the virus.

Participants who reported living with someone who was COVID-19 positive were 12 times more likely to be infected with the disease.

Nir Menachemi, lead scientist on the study and a professor and Fairbanks Endowed Chair in the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, said the significant likelihood of residents infecting others in their own home suggests the state’s stay-at-home order was effective at slowing the spread of the virus, constricting it to households.

“It’s important to stress that the vast majority of people in Indiana have not been infected and represent the minimum pool of still susceptible individuals,” Menachemi said during a virtual press briefing. “Therefore, as we slowly phase back and reopen the economy, we need to be extra vigilant with any and all safety precautions so that we do not lose the ground that we gained by hunkering down.”

The next phases of testing are planned for early June, October and April 2021.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said the state would be battling the virus “for the long haul.”

“We were hunkered down, and it paid off,” Holcomb said during a virtual press briefing. “And now we are in a stage where we have to continue to be mindful, understand that that vaccine or that treatment is down the road, long haul. We are not going to wait for herd immunity. Long haul, way down the road, we have a long way to go.

“If I walked away from this study with anything in my head it’s that this is a long road ahead. … We are in a good spot right now because we have been vigilant, and this ought to reinforce that what you’ve done to date is working, but what we don’t want to do is say, ‘There. We’re done.’”