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IUPUI to start coronavirus testing Saturday for study with state health department


A car pulls up to a drive-thru coronavirus testing site April 21 in Orange County, Florida. Starting Saturday, the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IU-Purdue University Indianapolis will begin tracking the spread of COVID-19 across Indiana. Tribune News Service

The first phase of a statewide COVID-19 study being conducted by IU-Purdue University Indianapolis occured Saturday. The results are still being determined.

The study is analyzing the spread of the virus by testing if the participants are asymptomatic or already had the virus and didn’t know. The researchers are also collecting data on antibodies. Indiana is the first state to do this type of testing. New York state is doing similar viral testing, but not antibody testing

The plans for the study were finalized in the first and second week of April, so it has been a very fast process, Dr. Nir Menachemi, IUPUI professor and principal investigator on the project, said.  

“Everyone who has been tested has either been really sick with symptoms or really high risk,” he said. “They are a tip of the iceberg. All of those statistics are skewed because they don’t represent who is infected. They just represent everyone who has been tested.” 

The testing is a collaborative effort between the Indiana State Department of Health and the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI. The IU team developed the scientific plan, will analyze the study results and interpret the data to the state.

“Having the ability to not only test 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. Kris Box said in the release.

The study includes random sample testing in phases for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the release. More testing phases will happen in May, October and next April, and the team expects to test at least 20,000 Hoosiers total. Any members of the public could be randomly selected to participate to ensure the sampling represents the population. 

People who are selected will be notified by phone, email or mail and told to go to the testing site closest to their home if they choose to participate, according to the release. They will have a code to show at the testing site. 

Testing will happen at eight fixed and 10 mobile sites around the state from Saturday to April 29 for this phase, according to the release.

Menachemi said the tests being used will not affect the supply of tests for those who display symptoms. The number tested will factor into the overall number of tests administered throughout the state. 

The testing will include swabbing and blood drawing, according to the release. The swabs will be tested within 72 to 96 hours. Blood will be tested later for antibodies to see if an individual has had the coronavirus before and look for antibodies. 

Menachemi said thousands of Indiana residents were tested over the first phase, but researchers are just beginning to look at the data collected from it. 

“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,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in the release.

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