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UPDATE: 3rd Hoosier dies of coronavirus; local doctor says trajectory unknown
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UPDATE: 3rd Hoosier dies of coronavirus; local doctor says trajectory unknown

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Kouts practice, Franciscan hospitals in Crown Point, Michigan City testing for COVID-19

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

The third Hoosier death from coronavirus was announced Friday afternoon by the Indiana State Department of Health. 

The patient was a Marion County resident over age 60 who had been hospitalized, the ISDH said. 

“Losing a loved one is devastating, and it’s troubling to see the toll that COVID-19 is taking on elderly residents here in Indiana and across the country,” said State Health Commissioner Kris Box. “I implore Hoosiers to continue to stay home if they’re sick and practice social distancing so that we can halt the spread of this virus and protect the most vulnerable among us.”

About 79 — or 14% — of the 554 patients tested statewide for COVID-19 have returned with positive results, according to state health department data released Friday. 

On Friday, the Indiana State Department of Health announced two more Lake County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the countywide total to six. Indiana health officials also reported 23 new positive cases of COVID-19 statewide, bringing to the number of Hoosiers diagnosed to 79. 

All tests have been conducted through the Indiana State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and private laboratories. 

With those numbers, it's far too early to tell how this trajectory will play out, said Dr. Frank Messana, a doctor with Comprehensive Care Medical Center.

“It’s difficult to make a solid projection, simply because the testing is so limited,” Messana said. “Even if someone meets (ISDH criteria for testing), there’s not enough tests to go around.”

That said, the high percentage of positives isn’t a surprise to him, he said. With limited testing available, hospitals and health care facilities are only reaching the sickest of individuals that meet most or all the screening criteria, such as being at-risk, or having a high fever, dry cough and other COVID-19 symptoms.

As more tests become widely available, Messana expects the percentage of positive results to drastically decline.

So does the Indiana State Department of Health.

A department spokesperson told The Times on Friday that they are focusing on testing only the highest-risk and most severely ill people.

“Because of this, we would expect our percentage of positives to be higher than if universal testing were occurring. The more ISDH tests that same population, the more positive results we would expect because these are the populations that are most vulnerable … “ the department said.

Vulnerable populations include the elderly, individuals with underlying health conditions, and health care workers who come into contact with ill patients.

ISDH declined to disclose the age range of patients testing positive for COVID-19, nor did ISDH disclose how many positive patients had pre-existing medical conditions that made them susceptible to severe illness.

ISDH declined to say how many tests have been administered and remain pending. The state lab is testing 7 days a week, with results typically available within 24 hours. LabCorp, as well as Quest and ARUP, are running tests as well and may have longer turnaround times. 

"ISDH is working diligently to further expand testing options in Indiana, including through the partnership announced with Eli Lilly and Company earlier this week," the department said to The Times. 

In the past week, Gov. Eric Holcomb has called for the closures of school districts, dine-in restaurants and other non-essential services — aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

And in neighboring Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was expected to order people to shelter-in-place outside of essential trips to the grocery store, doctor's office, daycare or elsewhere. 

Messana said he doesn't believe local, state and federal governments are overreacting with calls for social distancing.

"If we look back on it and say we overdid, it won’t be a bad thing,” Messana said.

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is highly contagious, he said. It’s also 10x as deadly as the seasonal flu.

Based on what happened in China and South Korea, Messana said the U.S. is likely in the second week of an outbreak, and the country must do everything it can to flatten the curve so as not to overwhelm the U.S. health care system

“But because of what we’re doing, I think in another six weeks or so, we’ll be seeing the backside of this curve. That’s why I think you keep seeing these closures extended (through April and May). It’s just a reality,” he said.

The new cases reported Friday by ISDH involve one resident in Allen, one in Boone, one in Floyd, one in Grant, one in Hamilton, one in Johnson, two in Lake, six in Marion, one in Shelby, three in St. Joseph, one in Tippecanoe, one in Vanderburgh, and one in Vigo counties.

In all, 27 counties have reported positive COVID-19 cases: Adams, Allen, Bartholomew, Boone, Clark, Fayette, Floyd, Franklin, Grant, Hamilton, Hendricks, Howard, Jennings, Johnson, Lake, LaPorte, Madison, Marion, Noble, Owen, Shelby, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Vigo, Wayne and Wells counties.

Lake and St. Joseph counties each has six positive cases. LaPorte has one case.

Lake Central school officials notified families Friday of a positive case involving a parent in the Kolling Elementary School community.

Marion County has reported the highest number of cases with 25.

Staff writer Anna Ortiz contributed to this report. 

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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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