Surge in COVID-19 cases expected

Supplies from Eli Lilly allowed expanded limited testing

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Local health officials anticipate a surge in COVID-19 cases “within a week or two,” Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Scott Douglas said.

No additional cases were reported Tuesday as the Board of Commissioners voted to extend the public health emergency for another two weeks through April 27. The number of confirmed local cases remains at 17, with the statewide total surpassing 5,500, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. More than 170 Hoosiers have died.

Douglas released more information about the shipment of supplies that allowed drive-thru testing to be expanded to additional residents showing symptoms of the virus. The county received 1,000 test tubes from Eli Lilly & Co.
containing a solution that preserves specimens until they arrive at the lab.

Limited testing began last week at Crawfordsville High School with tubes, known as viral transport media, manufactured in Italy, one of the outbreak’s hardest-hit countries.

“So getting more of that media poses a problem,” Douglas said in an interview, “because, of course, Italy has their hands full and needing all the supplies they can get, so we weren’t very optimistic that we were going to get a whole lot more media from the manufacturer in Italy.”

The county reached out last week to Lilly, which is producing the tubes under emergency rules designed to speed up testing. The county’s lab provider, Alverno Laboratories, must approve the tubes before they can be used.

The next challenge for health officials will be finding more nasal swabs once the current supply of a couple hundred is gone, Douglas said. The county will reach out to various distributors and could take swabs intended for other test kits already on hand, he added.

After receiving a very small allotment of personal protective equipment, the county isn’t expecting more shipments from the national strategic stockpile.

Douglas said the constantly changing situation makes it difficult to predict how much additional testing supplies or protective equipment is needed.

“I hate to even put a number out or make a guess,” he said.

About a half-dozen people a day are being tested at the drive-thru site at Crawfordsville High School. After limiting tests to symptomatic health care workers and first responders due to the shortage in supplies, the county said it would begin testing people over 65, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions who have symptoms.

Patients must schedule an appointment and have a doctor’s order to be tested.

Douglas said everyone showing symptoms would be tested if the county had enough supplies. But testing isn’t useful for people who only think they’ve been exposed to the virus as the incubation period for COVID-19 ranges from two to 14 days.

“If they’re tested and negative that’s not to say in a couple days they’ll start to become positive so if somebody’s been exposed, having a negative test is not all that reassuring because you’d have to test once a day for 14 days if you’re really going to try to catch if they become positive,” Douglas said.

“So I understand folks feeling anxious about that and wanting to be tested, but currently there’s not a benefit to testing folks that don’t have symptoms.”

According to the latest state figures, 130 Montgomery County residents have been tested. Douglas said there’s a “little bit more” testing being done locally because tests conducted at other clinics aren’t always reflected in the state’s numbers.

Area testing numbers range from as low as 41 in Parke County to 842 in Hendricks County. Nearly 50 people have been tested in Fountain County. More than 28,760 tests have been reported to the state health department, which does not reflect a comprehensive total, officials cautioned.

The drive-thru testing site is being manned by personnel from the local hospital and Franciscan Health Physician Network, the Montgomery County Health Department and school athletic trainers. Up to five staffers can be added to handle additional testing.

Results are now coming back within two days or in some cases 24 hours. Alverno’s main lab in northern Indiana is processing as many as 800 tests per day, Douglas said.

“I think the number of specimens coming in to them is now going to start backlogging, I suspect, as more testing comes online and becomes available.”

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