More must be done before NWI economy can be safely reopened, health officials say

Dana Bachman, of the Indiana Department of Health, takes a nasal swab from Annie Cotton, of Hammond, at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing clinic April 16, 2020 at St. Timothy Community Church in Gary.

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The Indiana Department of Health is shutting down a network of COVID-19 testing sites that last year were the first to bring widespread coronavirus testing availability to many Hoosier communities.

OptumServe Health Services at one point provided COVID-19 testing in 53 of Indiana's 92 counties, in partnership with the state health agency. They continue to offer testing in 30 counties, including two sites in Lake County, and one each in Porter and LaPorte counties.

All that, however, is due to end June 30 after administering more than 541,000 free COVID-19 tests to Hoosiers over the past 14 months.

State health officials announced Thursday there no longer is sufficient need to continue with OptumServe, since Indiana now has a robust community-led testing network in place, including pharmacies, health care providers, clinics and local health departments.

"We are grateful to OptumServe for its work to ensure that Hoosiers had COVID testing available to them while we worked to build more local capacity," said Dr. Kristina Box, state health commissioner.

"Without their work, many Hoosiers who were exposed to COVID or showing symptoms might never have known their status. I have no doubt that having this resource available helped reduce the spread of COVID in our state."

Indiana initially contracted with OptumServe for 100,000 COVID-19 tests per month with a 48-hour turnaround for results.

While those targets rarely were achieved, especially at the beginning, the OptumServe partnership put free testing in reach of nearly all Hoosiers by mid-June 2020 — while many other states still were limiting testing to individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.

After the OptumServe sites close, Northwest Indiana residents still have numerous opportunities to be tested for COVID-19, including 25 locations in Lake County, four in Porter County and five in LaPorte.

A list of COVID-19 testing sites is available online at coronavirus.in.gov.

"We remain committed to ensuring that any Hoosier who wants or needs to be tested can receive that testing in a location that's convenient," Box said.

The free COVID-19 vaccine also is available at 1,075 sites across the state. Hoosiers can find a vaccine site online at ourshot.in.gov, or by calling 211.

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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