INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers are waiting longer for COVID-19 test results and have fewer options for testing as a spike in new cases hits Indiana.
Backups at laboratories processing the tests have increased in recent weeks. For instance, OptumServe – which runs the state's free sites – has a disclaimer saying results could take four to six days. Previously it was between 48 hours and 72 hours.
And anecdotal reports show some people waiting more than a week from other test providers.
“With the demand for testing rising throughout the country, that is creating a lag on the system nationwide,” a statement from the Indiana State Department of Health said. “Some third-party labs are reporting longer turnaround times (4-6 or 5-7 days) due to the increase in demand in hotspots across the nation causing a backlog at the lab.”
If you are waiting for results – and have checked your spam filter – you can call the state call center at 877-826-0011 or your local health department, which also receives results.
“The delays in tests are extremely worrisome,” said Brian Dixon, a professor at the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI in Indianapolis.
“I am worried that the slowdown in processing of tests will hamper the state's ability to mitigate the spread of COVID in Indiana. If it takes an additional two to five days to confirm someone has COVID, it means the individual could potentially spread the virus to others before getting their lab result. If we ask these individuals to stay home until their lab result comes back, people will be forced to be off work for a longer period of time while they wait for their results.”
Dixon also said the federal government just this week redirected testing supplies from Indiana to other parts of the country.
“This means that ISDH will not be able to test as many people in the coming weeks. It also means that we will have to wait longer for tests because more tests will need to be 'sent out' to commercial labs which are backlogged as they are doing tests for multiple states many of which are experiencing major outbreaks,” he said.
ISDH spokeswoman Megan Wade-Taxter said as supplies nationally remain in high demand it is “not unusual for areas experiencing spikes in cases to get priority for resources. Indiana continues to receive supplies from the federal government and is working to obtain supplies through other sources.”
Dixon noted the lag in results is negatively impacting the state's contact tracing efforts – one of four key principles Gov. Eric Holcomb has identified for keeping the economy open.
He suggested the state consider initiating contact tracing for individuals who present with symptoms before the test comes back to help speed up the process. This might mean tracing people who ultimately test negative.
“However, waiting delays our ability to find the sources of spread and limits our ability to contain the outbreak,” Dixon said.
On Tuesday, the state reported 662 new cases of coronavirus and 13 new deaths. There were more than 8,000 tests reported going back as far back as June 9. An additional 21 Allen County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,993 cases and 133 deaths Tuesday.
OptumServe initially signed on with the state to provide up to 50 testing sites. But there are only 32 up and running.
In addition, 25 Indiana counties have no testing options listed on the Indiana State Department of Health website.
“It's two weeks before a lot of the state is planning to go back to school and there is uncertainty around testing in general. Why aren't we meeting the goals?” Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody asked. “This is a huge concern.
“Hoosiers need certainty. Why isn't the governor asking these questions – is he mad, frustrated?”
Hoosiers haven't actually paid any money to OptumServe. The contract was signed in late April and the first month was capped at $17.9 million but the state auditor and Indiana Economic Development Corp. said no payments have been made to the company yet.
The IEDC, which signed the initial contract, is reviewing the May invoice and expects payment to be between $7 million and $8 million. The cost is dependent on number of tests run and number of testing locations. There is no invoice for June yet.
The state health department took over the contract for July though its terms are unknown. Wade-Taxter said the contract is being finalized and it will be shared soon.
And it's not just Optum that is struggling. Testing overall is down, Democrats said.
On average, Indiana conducted more than 2,600 fewer tests every day last week compared with the week of June 14 – the state's testing highwater mark. ISDH reported performing just 43,271 tests last week, nosediving nearly 30% from the week of June 14, a news release from the Indiana Democratic Party said.
Dixon said the drop is likely due to several factors. He noted first that individuals who are getting COVID-19 right now, such as young adults and adolescents, do not feel sick and are therefore less likely to come in for testing.
“It is also possible that despite the messaging from the governor's office, many people may not realize they can come in for testing regardless of symptoms and without a doctor's note,” he said.
“So the messaging might not be getting through to young people or the impacted populations.”
And even though testing is down, Indiana's rate of positive tests is rising – an indication the virus is spreading in the population.