By Victoria Ratliff
INDIANAPOLIS—With labs lined up and ready to process more COVID-19 tests, the lack of basic supplies is keeping the state from expanding testing further.
“We have the ability to run the tests, we need to now be sure we’ve got the ability to take the test,” Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s virtual press briefing Wednesday.
Box said getting the swabs used to get a sample from a person as well as the solution known as “viral transport medium” needed for the tests is difficult.
“We have tried to buy swabs,” Box said. “…The federal government has taken over the supply of a lot of this. It’s not a question of money. I have plenty of money. If I can find them, I’d buy them and will buy them.”
Previously, Indiana was restricting coronavirus tests to individuals who had symptoms and were either in high-risk categories such as elderly or with underlying health problems, or were essential workers including those in health care and first responders.
Box said that the state now wants physicians to test anyone whom they believe may have contracted COVID-19.
She said she has heard stories from Hoosiers who had symptoms, such as a sore throat and fever, but were unable to get tested. With the appropriate amount of supplies, she said increasing testing will be critical to identifying those who came in contact with the sick individual and to track the spread of the virus.
“Now the questions is, are all the places open and available to do tests for individuals? Are they accessible? Do we have them all over the state, and do they have the swabs and viral transport media that they need to do that testing,” she said.
The state reported 394 additional positive COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 12,438. There were also an additional 31 deaths, making the toll now 661 fatalities. Box said those numbers may grow, both because there had been problems with the state’s online system for reporting positive cases and deaths that have now been resolved and because some earlier cases may only belatedly be found to have been from coronavirus.
At the press briefing, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch announced that 13 rural Hoosier communities will receive nearly $2 million in grants from the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs to aid them during the pandemic. These funds may be used to expand medical facilities to help with the patient load, provide fixed or mobile testing and provide grants or loan to small businesses.
As the state begins the process of reopening the economy, Holcomb said he will work closely with neighboring states in the Midwest. Governors of seven Midwest states announced recently they are coordinating their efforts to phase-in the reopening of businesses due to their shared borders and the numbers of people who live in one state but work in another.
Holcomb said he has calls with the other governors nearly daily and keeps a real-time conversation about how to reopen the economy in the region.
“It’s very important that we know what each other is doing,” he said, not just in terms of the numbers of infections but also “what are we thinking in terms of long-term, short-term, opening up, and how we’re considering doing that.”
Victoria Ratliff is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.