GOSHEN — Several state-sponsored COVID-19 testing sites will be replaced by community sites next month, as health officials hope Elkhart County residents will continue to get tested in high numbers.
County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz told the Board of Health that testing sites run by the Indiana State Department of Health will be closing in about a week. She said they’ll be replaced by a number of community-run sites supported by grant funding.
“The grant currently runs until June 30, 2021, and they did say we could renew this grant for a whole other year if we need to, but we hope at that time we won’t need to,” she said.
In Elkhart, the ISDH testing site at North Side Gym will be closed while the existing site at Concord Mall in Elkhart will be taken over by Heart City Health. Testing in Goshen will be offered by the Center for Healing and Hope, at Plymouth United Church of Christ at 902 S. Main St.
In Nappanee, Goshen Physicians will offer testing at the Anglemeyer Osteopathy Family Clinic.
“They will provide all the testing just like ISDH does,” Mertz said. “It will be all free, anybody can come. The hours for testing will include some hours after 5 p.m. and the majority of Saturdays.”
She hoped the new sites will be running soon after Sept. 1. She said the schedules will be made public once they’re finalized.
Tests will still be handed over to the ISDH for processing and the turnaround time for results at the three sites is expected to be about 48 hours, she said.
‘Keep doing what we’re doing’
The daily average number of tests performed has been decreasing since July, from a high of over 440 to about 270 as of last week, according to numbers published by the state. Mertz expressed a hope that the testing numbers will bounce back in order to catch as many positive cases as possible, including those that aren’t presenting symptoms.
“I’d really like to see the testing numbers go up, because I worry that we’re missing some mild or some asymptomatic cases,” she said. “In June through mid-July, we were able to test in the 350 to 450 range, and I’d really like to see us getting up at least into the 350 range again to catch those cases.”
She remarked after the meeting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly walked back the guidance it had issued on testing Monday. Recommendations posted to the CDC website stated that healthy people who have been exposed to COVID-19 “do not necessarily need a test” if they don’t have symptoms.
It was a reversal from previous advice that recommended testing for people who had been in close contact with infected individuals, whether they had symptoms or not. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield later said in a new statement that “all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients” may consider testing.
Mertz indicated that lower rates of testing, especially among people exposed to COVID-19 but not experiencing symptoms, could result in another spike in positive cases in Elkhart County.
“The CDC’s kind of walked that back. I don’t know what all that was about, but because there’s such a high rate of asymptomatic people, we really need to get tests done to catch those people and get them isolated and keep them from spreading the disease,” she said. “If we don’t have enough tests, we don’t catch those people, they spread the disease and pretty soon you end up with a spike.”
She also cautioned against people letting their guard down out of an impression that Elkhart County was in the clear. That includes people eager to hold large gatherings again, which still require a safety plan to be submitted to the health department if more than 250 people are expected.
“A number of people are thinking that the worst is over now because our numbers are going down and school is back in session, and they think we can relax our non-pharmaceutical measures,” she said. “Other countries have experienced increases in cases recently and I think it’s pretty obvious we have to keep doing what we’re doing until we could get a widely distributed, effective vaccine.”