INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's positivity rate for the COVID-19 virus is rising – an indication the novel coronavirus is spreading in the state.
While the death rate has slowed, hospital admissions are also increasing.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said ideally the state would like a positive rate for the tests to be less than 5%. And the state had a seven-day rolling average of 4.1% as of mid-June.
But the rolling average has now risen to 5.9%, and the single-day positivity rate for July 4 was 6.4%.
“That can be a sign that we are seeing more actual outbreaks, more actual cases – not just related to the number of people we are testing,” Box said.
She also warned Hoosiers not to bank on society gaining herd immunity through vast infections.
Box said the common cold, for instance, is a coronavirus and people get it over and over again. She said antibodies for COVID-19 are disappearing in those who have been infected.
“The concern there is that it doesn't matter how many people we expose we are not going to probably develop that herd immunity,” she said.
Gov. Eric Holcomb added that both herd immunity or a vaccine are far away and between now and then people are getting sick and dying. He encouraged Hoosiers to focus on their conduct.
The news came during Wednesday's media briefing, in which 455 new cases and 15 new deaths were reported statewide.
Another Allen County resident has died from COVID-19 and 23 have tested positive, bringing the total Wednesday to 2,863 cases and 132 deaths.
Testing was up by more than 5,000 Wednesday, but the Indiana Democratic Party noted average daily tests have dropped from about 8,800 a day in mid-June to about 7,400 last week.
“Is (OptumServe) failing to hold up their end of the bargain or is the governor satisfied with falling test numbers?” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody asked. “We won't beat this virus if Eric Holcomb can't or won't admit the testing company his administration hand-picked isn't up to the job.”
Indiana previously had 50 free testing sites open through a contract with OptumServe but as of Wednesday only 34 were open. Last week OptumServe averaged 2,489 tests a day – up from 1,758 in early June.
Box said Wednesday that the state extended the contract with the company through July and explained why some Hoosiers have had their appointments canceled with little notice. She said some of the test sites don't have air conditioning and when temperatures rise to 78 or 80 degrees they must shut down according to safety laws. The state is working to find new sites that have air conditioning.
Box said Optum can set up a new site within three to five days and the company has been very adaptable.
The state contracted with Logistics Health Inc. – a subsidiary of OptumServe – in April at a cost of $17.9 million through May to operate 50 COVID-19 testing sites. The prediction at the time was for them to run up to 6,600 tests a day.
The contract was renewed for June, and according to the contract the renewal month would cost between $21 million and $41 million depending on the number of teams per site. A second renewal month isn't mentioned in the contract and it is unclear what the state is paying for July.