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How many people are tested for coronavirus in the Region? That's difficult to answer
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How many people are tested for coronavirus in the Region? That's difficult to answer

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COVID-19 in the Region

A medical worker speaks with a patient during drive-thru COVID-19 testing March 18 outside the emergency room at Franciscan Health hospital in Crown Point.

Despite COVID-19 tests ramping up across the U.S. and Indiana, local hospitals and county health officials said there is still only enough to test the most at-risk patients and those who exhibit respiratory symptoms. 

How many people are being tested locally is not currently known because recently contacted Region hospitals are not sharing that data publicly, nor are they required to under Indiana law. They are required, however, to report positive cases. 

The Porter County Health Department does not have precise numbers of Porter County residents tested, though it is closely monitoring suspected cases and confirmed positive cases. 

"Testing sites are not required to report this information or required to report negative results," Porter County Health Officer Dr. Maria Stamp said. "We are trying to keep in contact with testing sites to obtain this information when possible." 

For instance, a private clinic in Kouts has tested 125 people since the practice begin testing 10 days ago, the latest figures available, Stamp said Thursday. 

Despite the increase in testing capacity locally and statewide, there is still up to a weeklong delay for results in many cases, depending on the lab used, Stamp said. 

"During this time, patients are sent home to self-isolate as if they are positive for COVID-19 until the test results are returned," Stamp said. 

She said for patients with a doctor's order and a reference number from ISDH, testing at Porter Regional Hospital can be done without delay. If a patient meets criteria at the Kouts clinic, they are able to test within one to three days, according to the clinic's testing schedule, she added. 

Lake County's health officer, Dr. Chandana Valilala, said it's difficult for the health department to track all testing countywide with the various entities and testing sites out there, particularly in such a rapidly evolving situation. 

"However, we are made aware of any positive tests in Lake County by the ISDH," Valilala said. 

Testing limits, turnaround times

Robert Blaszkiewicz, spokesman for Franciscan Health, said while he could not release local testing data, he said the Crown Point hospital is capping outpatient testing to 50 per day because of limited supplies.

"I can’t say what the limits are at our other sites, but we do have limited supplies," Blaszkiewicz said.

Franciscan Health is only doing outpatient testing on individuals who have used the Franciscan Health app or the hotline by calling at 219 879-8511, prompt #8 for screening. To obtain a test, the patient must have been identified as eligible, Blaszkiewicz said. 

Alverno Labs in Hammond began in-house COVID-19 testing this week with the goal of 24-hour turnaround time for inpatients, which will greatly reduce the notification time Franciscan Health previously had, he said.

"They are looking at processing 200 tests daily and ramping up from there," he said. 

Limited testing available

Porter Health Care System declined to share local testing data and a representative deferred all local data questions to the Indiana State Department of Health and the Porter County Health Department.

The Porter hospital system only would say that it has "sufficient supplies" to test all of our patients who meet ISDH's criteria for testing, meaning they are symptomatic with risk factors, have recently traveled or had extended exposure to an individual confirmed to be COVID-19-positive.

"Our physicians are coordinating with ISDH and writing orders when patients meet the criteria. Each physician office then directs the patient to the most appropriate testing site within our organization," Porter hospitals said. 

A Porter hospital system representative said the system is actively maintaining a personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory based on the number of active patients.

"We have sufficient inventory to tend to our patients. Because this is a public health issue, we, along with every hospital in the region, are assisting the Emergency Management Operations Center as they track the inventory of supplies and available beds throughout District 1 in an effort to prepare for a possible surge in patients," the representative said. 

Self-quarantine encouraged

So far, Methodist Hospitals has been able to perform testing on inpatients and emergency room patients, and limited drive-thru testing for those with a doctor's order and found to be symptomatic, according to the hospital system. 

Anyone with a doctor's order in the drive-thru are being done the same day; however, turnaround times vary based on the number of tests being submitted to the processing facilities, the hospital said. Tremendous efforts are being made to shorten turnaround times. 

If a person is symptomatic but unable to be tested, the recommendation is that they self-quarantine, the hospital said. 

Methodist Hospitals declined to say how many coronavirus tests it has administered to individuals, saying the number is changing daily as new resources and testing sites emerge. The hospital system has 63 ventilators on hand, 11 of which are currently in use, it said.

"Any suspect patient that presents to the emergency room for care is being tested. Based on the symptoms, they are either sent home to self-quarantine for 14 days with self-care instructions or admitted. We have had three inpatients test positive," Methodist Hospitals said. 

Community Healthcare System’s representative did not respond to The Times' questions by deadline. 

Hospitals have asked that people who seek testing at the various sites across Northwest Indiana first obtain a doctor's order and call ahead of time to verify testing availability and eligibility. 

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North Lake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting from UIS. Contact her at lauren.cross@nwi.com or 219-933-3206.

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