INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers will soon have nearly 100 new community testing sites for COVID-19, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday during his weekly briefing.
The Indiana State Department of Health also updated its community spread ratings for the first time Wednesday – with 85 counties rated in the lowest two risk categories. None were in the highest risk category.
This comes as the state's positivity rate of tests has dropped in recent weeks.
“We are proving that we can go back to school, ... we can go back to work and it's just going to continue to require us to be vigilant,” Holcomb said.
He said he is not considering adding a penalty or enforcement to the mask mandate because it's making a difference even as schools and universities reopen.
“I shudder to think, if we hadn't done a mask mandate, where we would be,” Holcomb said.
The state added 720 new cases Wednesday and 17 new deaths.
Two more Allen County residents died and 36 tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 5,406 cases and 184 deaths.
Two additional deaths were reported elsewhere in northeast Indiana – one in Steuben County for a total of seven and one in Noble for a total of 32.
A dashboard tracking COVID-19 cases at individual schools is also close to going live. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said it won't show cases if there are fewer than five because it could identify a student or staff member. But there will be state aggregate numbers – including by age.
Participation in the dashboard is not a mandate; “this will be a strong request,” Box said.
The state is providing the information, she said, because parents, schools and stakeholders asked for it.
“The purpose is not to stigmatize a school or to penalize them,” Box said. “rather the purpose is to help all of us to make the best decisions possible as we navigate this pandemic. ... I firmly believe this knowledge will be powerful.”
She was asked about a vaccine for the novel coronavirus and said between 10 million and 15 million doses are expected to be available initially for 330 million individuals in the U.S. Indiana is using a team of experts to identify who should receive the immunization first in Indiana.
Box also gave a spirited defense of pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration working to make a safe vaccine happen.
“I know there is a lot of talk out there about the vaccine already and unfortunately a lot of coming down both sides of the aisle as to whether this is going to come out and be rushed out and not be safe,” she said. “I want you to know that the pharmaceutical companies that are engaged in producing these vaccines are committed to not rolling out a vaccine until they have fully vetted that vaccine.
“And the FDA is also committed to making sure that we stick very closely as are these pharmaceutical companies to the highest standards for ethics and the highest standards for scientific principles in developing these vaccines.”
Box said the state has a committee to review the vaccine data and make sure it is safe to be offered to Hoosiers.
But neither she nor Holcomb pledged to take it. Box said she doesn't think either of them would be eligible in the initial categories. Holcomb said he will seek a professional's opinion. Both did encourage Hoosiers to get their flu vaccine.
In the meantime, the state is supplementing testing by providing more than $30 million in funding to increase access to COVID-19 testing for Hoosiers over the next two years.
All 94 local health departments in Indiana were invited to apply to the state for the grants to launch testing operations.
Three dozen local testing sites are scheduled to be open by the end of this week, with nearly 60 other locations scheduled to open by Oct. 1. Some counties are partnering with neighboring counties. More than 10 counties, including Lake, Porter, St. Joseph, Marion, Hamilton and Allen, are opening multiple sites.
Allen County has three sites planned; other counties with one site each are DeKalb, Steuben, Noble, LaGrange, Adams, Wells and Huntington.
The testing will be free, just as the 39 OptumServe sites provided by the state.
To find a testing site, go to www.coronavirus.in.gov.