INDIANAPOLIS—Nearly 45% of individuals in Indiana infected with COVID-19 don’t know they have the virus, according to a study the state did in partnership with Indiana University.
The study, conducted by the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, tested 4,611 randomly-selected Indiana residents to get a better idea of how COVID-19 is impacting the state.
Of the 4,611 tested, 1.7% tested positive for the virus at the time of the test and 1.1% were found to have antibodies, signaling a past infection. Nir Menachemi, chairman of the health policy and management department of the Fairbanks school, said this means about 186,000 Hoosiers had COVID-19 during the time the tests were taken.
“At the same time, the state was aware of only about 17,000 cumulative cases, not including deaths, suggesting that the true impact of the virus was almost 11 times greater than conventional testing had informed us,” he said at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s coronavirus briefing Wednesday.
Of the 2.8% that were found to have or previously have the virus, 44.8% had no symptoms.
Dr. Kristina Box, the state’s health commissioner, said this high percentage should encourage Hoosiers to continue safety precautions the state has put in place.
“It’s been a little heartbreaking for me to see some of the pictures that people have been sending in where people are standing in line, back to back, next to each other, they’re not social distancing, and people are not wearing masks,” Box said. “Of all the positives we had, 45% of people said they had no symptoms at the time they were tested. That should underscore the importance of why you need to wear that mask and social distance.”
Because of the high percentage of asymptomatic individuals, Paul Halverson, professor and founding dean of the Fairbanks School of Public Health, said all Hoosiers should act as if they have the virus when venturing outside their homes.
While the death rate of the virus is only around 0.58% of individuals who contract it, Menachemi said that is six times deadlier than the flu.
“My recommendation is to really focus on taking social distancing seriously. It’s not just when you feel like wearing a mask, its not staying away and creating distance when it’s convenient, but it’s doing it every time, all the time, with the idea that you need to protect yourself and you need to protect others,” Halverson said.
The results reported Wednesday are from the first round of the study. A second round will be conducted in a few weeks to see the impact of lifting some of the state’s restrictions.
Menachemi said the study found individuals living with someone who is COVID-19 positive in their household were 12 times more likely to also have the virus.
“This finding, along with the relatively-low 2.8% prevalence, strongly suggests that our social distancing policies played a critical role in curbing the spread of the virus, and containing it to within household,” he said.
Still, Menachemi said Hoosiers need to be cautious when going about their days.
“The good news is that by slowing the spread of the virus, we have now bought some time to determine the best way forward,” he said. “As we slowly phase back and reopen the economy, we need to be extra vigilant with any and all safety precautions so that we do not lose the ground that we gained by hunkering down.”
Marion County is one of three counties in the state that aren’t following Holcomb’s reopening plan because of a higher rates of infections. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Wednesday that the city will begin the second phase of Holcomb’s reopening plan — which the other 89 counties entered earlier — on Friday, but with a few modifications.
“I know these delays will be frustrating to some, but I assure you that these decisions are being made in an effort not just to reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community now, but also reduce the likelihood that it returns in the future” Hogsett said.
This will include the city opening non-essential retail at 50% capacity, opening shopping malls with limited capacity, increasing social gatherings and religious services from the current 10 to 25 people and allowing libraries to reopen with curbside pickup of books.
The city will lower even more restrictions May 22, when restaurants can reopen in-person dining but only with outdoor seating and social distancing measures in place. Nail and hair salons will remain closed until at least June 1, when restaurants can reopen indoor dining at 50% capacity.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Health Department, said the city will use four benchmarks of data to monitor the spread of the virus in the county, and assess whether restrictions need to be tightened again or can continue to be loosened.
“We will closely monitor this data over the next two weeks to see whether were able to maintain no significant increase in our cases by looking at our benchmarks,” she said. “But of course, if our benchmarks show that we are seeing a significant increase in our cases, we will have to revert and move back to stage one.”
Victoria Ratliff is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.