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Indiana hiring company to boost coronavirus testing

April 28, 2020 GMT
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Protesters lean out of their cars to record on their cell phones outside Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Ind., Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The protesters want better safety measures after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the prison. (Kale Wilk/The Times via AP)
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Protesters lean out of their cars to record on their cell phones outside Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Ind., Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The protesters want better safety measures after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the prison. (Kale Wilk/The Times via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana health officials announced plans Tuesday to significantly increase coronavirus testing, and the governor said he is preparing details on how the state could possibly relax business restrictions later this week while similar steps are debated across the country.

The state’s death toll from confirmed coronavirus cases has topped 900, with nearly 100 other people having died with presumed infections, health officials said.

TESTING BOOST

Indiana’s deal with OptumServe Health Services calls for the company to open 20 testing sites around the state within the next week, with 30 more sites during the following two weeks. Those sites are intended to provide COVID-19 testing for 100,000 people within 30 days, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer with the Indiana State Department of Health.

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That’s more than the some 87,100 tests reported to the state health department since coronavirus testing began in early March as Indiana has trailed national testing rates. Testing has been largely limited to health care workers and people who are seriously ill.

The new testing program will be provided for free to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms without the need of a doctor’s order, Weaver said.

“This will provide a more complete picture about the spread of the virus, not only in high-risk populations but across the entire state,” Weaver said.

OptumServe, which is a division of insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, has a $17.9 million contract with the state, which officials hope will be covered by federal grants, Weaver said. But neither Weaver nor Gov. Eric Holcomb explained how the company was selected during the governor’s coronavirus briefing Tuesday.

The first 20 testing sites will be at Indiana National Guard armories, with tests performed by appointments only. Those appointments can be made on a website that OptumServe is to launch in the coming days, the governor’s office said. Those tested are expected to receive the results within an average of 48 hours.

EASING RESTRICTIONS

Holcomb said he would announce changes Friday to the statewide stay-at-home order that has been in effect since March 25. The governor has not specified his planned modifications but indicated more workplaces and businesses could reopen while under guidelines such as requiring masks, additional spacing between employees and frequent cleanings.

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State officials are considering information such as hospitalization and death rates, along with the availability of intensive care unit beds and ventilators for those who are seriously ill in deciding whether to lift any restrictions, Holcomb said.

“That will roll out in stages,” Holcomb said. “It will not be that light switch, where the economy’s open — we’re all back to work, same thing as it used to be. It won’t that. It will be in multiple stages leading through the summer.”

The latest state statistics showed 546 COVID-19 patients were in the intensive care units of Indiana hospitals and that 44% of ICU beds remained available as of Monday. That’s 75 fewer coronavirus patients in those ICUs than last Thursday.

Holcomb has over the past two weeks lifted the state’s ban on elective medical procedures by providers including hospitals, surgery centers, dentists and veterinarians.

LATEST DEATH TOLL

The Indiana State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 57 additional deaths, boosting the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 901 since the first fatality was recorded six weeks ago. Most of the newly reported deaths happened between Friday and Monday, but one dates back to April 18.

Indiana’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll has more than doubled since the 437 recorded as of April 12.

PRISON PROTEST

Dozens of vehicles circled the roads near a northwestern Indiana prison in a protest Tuesday over the treatment of inmates facing a coronavirus outbreak inside its walls.

Vehicles with signs and messages such as “Healthcare is a human right” and “Prison sentence not death sentence” drove past Westville Correctional Facility.

The Westville prison had 143 confirmed COVID-19 infections among its some 2,500 inmates and staffers, according to state prison system online statistics Tuesday.

Angela Grable, one of the protest organizers, said she was moved to action by a message she received from a Westville inmate to whom she and her husband minister.

“He basically asked me to take care of his mother if something happens to him because there’s no way he’s not going to get COVID,” Grable told the South Bend Tribune. “... He was preparing to die.”

Prison officials maintain they are following health guidelines and isolating those who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and other inmate advocates have pushed for the early release of some prisoners to lower prison populations. Holcomb has repeatedly said he doesn’t support such actions.