COVID testing struggles to keep up with demand

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Malcolm Griner gets a COVID-19 test from a member of the Indiana Army National Guard outside of the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Greenfield office in September.

Daily Reporter file photo

HANCOCK COUNTY — As COVID-19’s latest quickly spreading variant renews an importance on testing for the virus, supply struggles to keep up with demand.

Recent traveling and gathering for holidays have only exacerbated that challenge. Hancock County has several locations to get tested for free, but getting an appointment can mean waiting a week or more. While at-home tests fly off shelves, the federal government continues with a plan to give out more than half a billion kits, although it will be several more weeks before they’re available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports COVID-19’s omicron variant likely spreads more easily than other strains of the virus. More data is needed to determine whether omicron causes more severe illness than other variants, however.

Hancock County has been averaging over 400 COVID-19 tests a day, trending similarly to the way it did during surges last winter and during the summer, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

The state health department says people who have symptoms of COVID-19 like a cough or a fever should be tested, and those who are fully vaccinated who are a close contact of a confirmed case should check with a health care provider. The department asks those awaiting test results to quarantine from others as much as possible. Those who have tested positive in the last 90 days do not need to be tested.

Registering for appointments for free COVID-19 tests in Indiana is available at coronavirus.in.gov, which also lists testing locations at health care providers across the state. The site lists seven locations for Hancock County, three of which are free; however, wait times at the free sites as of Monday evening spanned a week or more.

Meanwhile, posts continue to pop up on Hancock County-based community Facebook pages in search of at-home tests at area retailers.

Last week, President Joe Biden said the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free of charge to people to use at home. But despite the high public demand for tests, it will still be several more weeks before the kits are available to be shipped. The administration is still working on details for how the program will work.

The type of test that Biden hopes to get into the hands of Americans is a rapid antigen test. Rapid antigen tests look for proteins from the virus that may be present in samples collected via saliva or a swab up the nostrils. The tests are relatively cheap and quick, with results known in around 15 minutes. They are, however, not 100% reliable and can miss the early stages of COVID-19 infection.

PCR tests, which are better at detecting low levels of the virus, are usually performed by a doctor or health practitioner – although some are available for home use – after which the samples are sent to a lab.

Like the rapid test, the first step in a PCR test is the collection of genetic material – again, saliva or via a nostril swab. After that initial procedure, the sample is amplified through a sophisticated process that causes the test DNA to replicate until there are a billion copies of the original piece. That allows for a very high level of accuracy, with the test being able to detect the tiniest presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, a PCR test can cost up to $100 or more, and results can take several days to come through.

All tests are a snapshot at the time of sample collection and are much more likely to be accurate when a person is infectious, so people are encouraged to take multiple tests 24 hours apart.

Dr. Gary Sharp, Hancock County health officer, encourages people to get tested if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to the virus, and also understands those without symptoms may want to get tested to be safe.

“I think testing has always been important,” Sharp said. “I think we’re seeing a real surge in testing now because people want to travel for the holidays and don’t want to take it (COVID-19) to grandma and grandpa.”

Sharp also encouraged people to get vaccinated from COVID-19 and wear masks when unable to socially distance.

How to get tested

The state health department’s COVID-19 site has a link to testing locations in Hancock County. The site address is www.coronavirus.in.gov. Look for the link near the top of the home page.

COVID-19 data through Dec. 26 

Hancock County

146 new tests administered (Dec. 22-26)

26 new cases (Dec. 24-26)

13.7% seven-day (Dec. 14-20) positivity rate all tests, 8.9% cumulative rate

0 new deaths

179,826 total tests administered

61,677 total individuals tested

14,560 total cases

22.3% seven-day (Dec. 14-20) positivity rate unique individuals, 23.6% cumulative rate

196 total deaths

45,822 fully vaccinated (62.3% of eligible population)

17,672 booster doses

Indiana

10,052 new tests administered (April 24, 2020-Dec. 26, 2021), 2,470 new individuals tested

1,862 new cases (Dec. 24-26, 2021)

13.7% seven-day (Dec. 14-20) positivity rate all tests, 9% cumulative rate

0 new deaths

16,508,601 total tests administered

4,723,216 total individuals tested

1,221,297 total cases

9,399 total reinfection cases since Sept. 1, 2021

23.9% seven-day (Dec. 14-20) positivity rate unique individuals, 25.7% cumulative rate

18,110 total deaths

47.2% ICU beds in use  non-COVID

38.2% ICU beds in use  COVID

14.6% ICU beds available

19.4% ventilators in use  non-COVID

15.7% ventilators in use  COVID

65% ventilators available

Hospital census: 2,982 COVID-19 patients

Delta variant: 99.4% of samples in December

Omicron: 0.1% of samples in December

Not variant of concern: 0.5% of samples in December

650 total probable deaths

150 total cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children

3,545,779 fully vaccinated (54.5% of eligible population)

1,321,922 booster doses

101,623 breakthrough cases (2.9% of fully vaccinated individuals)

1,983 breakthrough hospitalizations (0.056% of fully vaccinated individuals)

1,071 breakthrough deaths (0.03% of fully vaccinated individuals)

Source: Indiana Department of Health