State launches testing network, moves to Stage 4


State officials today announced the launch of a statewide lab-testing network to maximize the number of COVID-19 test swabs that can be processed in Indiana each day.

The network is a result of a partnership with Eli Lilly and the Indiana Hospital Association.

Currently, the state has a limited amount of testing reagents and equipment available for individual labs. The Indiana State Dept. of Health laboratory and nine other private labs will form a lab-testing network, forming one entity that can purchase needed reagents and supplies in the international marketplace.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the network would allow the state to competitively vie for national and international testing equipment by leveraging the state’s buying power. Box said the state would purchase approximately $60 million of bulk orders of testing reagents and equipment, which the labs will buy from the state.

“This will allow the state to diversify its testing methods in case supplies of reagent for one particular agent are in short supply,” Box said during a virtual press briefing.

The state recently reported it has ordered reagents that will allow labs to double their processing capacity each day, and it is planning to purchase new testing equipment later in August, in a second phase, to further increase lab capacity.

To date, the state has created 202 COVID-19 testing sites in 80 percent of Indiana counties.

Stage 4

On June 10, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state would move to Stage 4 of its reopening plan starting June 12 – two days earlier than initially scheduled.

Holcomb and Box said the four principles the state has used to track its ability to reopen have remained steady or shown improvement: decreased COVID-19 hospitalizations, retained ICU bed and ventilator capacity, the ability to test anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and the ability to contact trace all positive cases of the disease.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen from 1,346 May 11 to 902 June 8. The number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations has also decreased from 85 May 8 to 44 June 1. ICU bed capacity has hovered between 37 and 42 percent, and ventilator capacity has remained steady at between 82 and 83 percent for the last two weeks. In addition, more than 650 contact tracers have been hired. But Box said counties such as LaGrange County, which has seen a slight uptick in hospitalizations, should reopen with caution.

The state moved from Stage 1, which started March 24, to Stage 2 on May 4. After, the state continued to Stage 3 on May 22. Holcomb said he was reluctant to predict whether the state would enter Stage 5 of the reopening plan before July 4, the initially scheduled date for the start of Stage 5.

During Stage 4, social gatherings of up to 250 people will be allowed; restaurant dining rooms may open at 75 percent capacity; and bars and nightclubs may open at 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters and bowling allays could also open at 50 percent capacity, along with amusement and water parks. And community youth and adult recreational games, leagues and tournaments were allowed to resume. But festivals, fairs, parades and carnivals remain closed.

State officials underscored the importance of continued social distancing and sanitization efforts to combat the disease.

“The data is what is guiding us,” Holcomb said. “We are not alone in this. And so when you look around the country, and you look at some states where the numbers are trending down in a very positive direction, like in the state of Indiana, other states that are trending up in the other direction. So you wonder what happened with the virus and how is it mutating. … So there are too many factors to project (further) than four or five days.

“What I do think that this illustrates or underscores for me is we made the right decision early on to hit pause. … We hit this hard at the outset, and we are in a better position today because of that.”