VALPARAISO — The Ivy Tech Community College campus in Valparaiso has been chosen by the state Health Department as the northwest Indiana site for advanced COVID-19 testing to measure the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
The state announced Thursday it will conduct a first-of-its-kind study to measure the coronavirus’ spread. It’s being done in cooperation with the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health. The information gathered is critical to understand how the virus is affecting residents and what can be done to protect the community, officials said.
“As a community, it’s vitally important to learn how widespread the virus has become and whether many of us benefit from some immunity," Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy said. We’re grateful to Ivy Tech Chancellor Aco Sikoski and his staff for hosting this testing for the local region. We value these important partnerships and Ivy Tech’s ongoing leadership.”
In making the announcement about the sites chosen for the testing, Gov. Eric Holcomb said, “Data is key in guiding our response in the fight against COVID-19, and our partnership with Fairbanks School of Public Health researchers will provide high-quality information to help shape our decision making."
Participants in the study will be selected randomly to represent a cross section of the population. Those selected will be notified by mail, text message, email or phone and asked to report to the designated testing site for the area. Participation is voluntary, and at least 20,000 Hoosiers will be tested for the study, which will be conducted in four phases over the next year, beginning Saturday.
The first round of testing will involve at least 5,000 people 12 and older from across the state’s 10 emergency preparedness districts and will involve both nose and throat swabs and blood samples. The swabs will be tested for the virus within 72 to 96 hours, while the blood samples will be tested later for antibodies that will show if an individual had the virus in the past.
Blood samples will be collected by phlebotomists from the Indiana National Guard while the swabs will be collected by emergency medical services providers. Indiana University Health and Eli Lilly and Co. will process the nasal samples and report the results to the state.
In subsequent testing rounds, planned for May and October this year and April 2021, between 5,000 and 7,000 people will be randomly selected. The testing is free to those selected to participate in the study. Participants can choose how they want to be notified of the results of their tests, and the overall results will be available after the study is complete.
“Having the ability to not only test for the presence of this virus but also to learn more about people who have been exposed in the past and might have antibodies that indicate past infection will help us fine-tune our work to keep Hoosiers safe from this pandemic,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said.
Ivy Tech will be the primary location for the testing, but additional, mobile testing will be available in Lake, LaPorte and Jasper counties.
"The vast majority of the testing information that we have is from people who are either sick or high risk," Nir Menachemi, IU professor and principal investigator for the study, said. "What we don't know is how bad each community within our state is infected, or has been infected.
“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 entire iceberg, and try to get a sense of how large it is and how it's affecting different communities, perhaps, differently.”