The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 26, 2020 1:00 am

On track, but only if we stay vigilant

Virus not guaranteed to trend downward

Abe Schwab

From what the numbers say, congratulations are in order.

Unlike our neighboring states, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Indiana has decreased over the past several weeks.

During that time, like many of you, I've been watching the number of new cases with bated breath. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and the numbers in Indiana and Allen County to skyrocket. And yet, they haven't.

So, congratulations to all the Hoosiers who have helped stem the spread of COVID-19, who have taken precautions and limited exposure for themselves and others.

Basking in the glow of our successes, I'm tempted to take a more cavalier attitude about the precautions I have been taking.

Why limit my social interactions? Why suffer through the uncomfortableness of wearing a mask? Why avoid the gym and group workouts?

And look at the numbers from Phase 2 of the COVID-19 testing study by IUPUI and the Indiana State Department of Health. Released last week, they tell us that active COVID-19 infections are down and the number of Hoosiers with antibodies is up.

This led Rep. Jim Banks to announce in a recent daily email: “The latest Indiana-wide study of coronavirus cases shows that the number of infected Hoosiers is down, and the number of Hoosiers testing positive for antibodies is up. That means that the virus will spread less going forward.”

But let's take a closer look at the numbers from Phase 2 of the COVID-19 testing study.

Using a somewhat random sampling of individuals, they found that only 0.6% of Hoosiers tested positive for COVID-19, and 1.5% tested positive for antibodies for COVID-19. Taken together, that means 2.1% of Hoosier have or have had COVID-19. That's somewhere around 140,000 Hoosiers who have it or had it.

But the flip side is important. If this study is accurate, it means that nearly 98% of Hoosiers (somewhere north of 6.5 million Hoosiers) do not have and have not had COVID-19.

The reason that the number of cases will remain low in Indiana isn't because of the low infection rate or because of the number of Hoosiers who've already had it. It just hasn't spread that much. The number of cases will remain low if we remain vigilant.

We are still finding new cases every day. There are still individuals spreading COVID-19 because they are not yet symptomatic. If we don't remain vigilant and limit exposure, they could become superspreaders, our numbers could skyrocket, and the other shoe would drop.

The secret to our success has been personal restraint. We have had success in limiting the spread of the disease and for that we should be congratulated. But if we move too quickly to conclude that we're out of the woods, if we stop being cautious, there are still 98% of us who could become and will become infected.

So, as hard as it is, we should continue to demonstrate restraint. Keep enjoying the outdoors and driveway conversations and feel good about the success we've had. But don't forget what got us here.

Abe Schwab is a professor of philosophy and director of Ethics Across the Curriculum at Purdue Fort Wayne who specializes in applied ethics.

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