3/9/20 General Coronavirus

The IUPUI Fairbanks School of Public Health will begin a complete study of the prevalence of COVID-19 in Indiana on Saturday, according to Dr. Paul Halverson during the governor's daily press conference Thursday.

Halverson, dean of the Fairbanks School, announced the study at the COVID-19 Task Force press conference on Thursday afternoon. The study is designed to provide an understanding of the wider picture of coronavirus in Indiana and inform future decision-making.

Previous testing was restricted to symptomatic or high-risk individuals to inform clinical measures like hospital staffing and resource management, according to Fairbanks Health Policy Chair Nir Menachemi. This study is set to examine the full impact of the virus and inform future public policy decisions.

"If we're only testing people with the most serious symptoms, it seems like we're only looking at the tip of the iceberg," Menachemi said. "What our study allows us to do is look below the water and see the full iceberg and get a sense of how large it is."

Menachemi emphasized the study is meant to examine the community-by-community impact of the virus. Test subjects are being chosen randomly, and will be notified by a postcard and phone call.

Those notifications for Phase 1 of the study, set to begin Saturday, are "already in the mail," according to Menachemi.

If the subject chooses to participate, they will be directed to one of eight drive-through testing sites or 10 mobile sites for testing — one of which is in Tippecanoe County. The study will take nasal swabs to detect active virus material and blood samples to detect virus antibodies in a subject. 

The testing will roll out in four phases and last about a year. Phase 2 is set to begin on May 23, and Phases 3 and 4 are expected to begin October 2020 and April 2021. The testing is free, and subjects will receive their results, according to Menachemi and State Health Commissioner Kris Box.

"We are taking a critical step toward understanding how COVID-19 has affected the population of Indiana," Menachemi said.

In addition to this study, Box announced the FDA has approved an at-home testing kit with a shorter swab. These kits are expected to be available with a doctor's order in the coming weeks, and the state has already received over 100,000 swabs through donations or purchases.

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