Indiana's health department has limited who is eligible for rapid COVID tests at state-run sites as demand for testing continues to soar during a surge of cases largely due to spread of the omicron variant.
Under new state guidance, rapid antigen tests are currently only available for those 18 or younger, regardless of symptoms, or those who are 50 and older, but symptomatic.
The department said the change, announced Tuesday, was "due to high demand and a national shortage of rapid test kits."
"This change is necessary due to the national shortage of rapid antigen tests and is designed to help ensure that students can stay in school and that Hoosiers who are most likely to need a monoclonal antibody are identified within the prescribed window in which they can be administered," the department said in a release, "Indiana typically uses about 50,000 rapid tests per week but is only guaranteed to receive 11,000 a week at this time."
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In addition to the guidance changes, the state plans to increase hours at several testing sites.
The weekly risk assessment from the Indiana Department of Health released last week placed 27 of the state’s 92 counties at the highest risk level of coronavirus spread, with all others in the next-highest “moderate spread” category.
Cases of the virus in adults under 40 and in children account for “a large proportion” of recent new cases, the state Health Department’s chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said Wednesday. School cases also increased before the winter break to some of the highest levels recorded in months.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Indiana has increased by more than 700% since June, and the state's hospital census is now at the highest level in five years, she continued.
“We’re often seeing patients being held in the emergency room for hours and sometimes days until a bed (becomes) available which is difficult for the patient, their family and for the staff,” Weaver said. “It is heartbreaking to have people arrive in distress from COVID knowing their severe illness could have been prevented by vaccine.”
The Indiana Department of Health reported Wednesday that 54.6% of Indiana residents 18 and older are fully vaccinated. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said it was “critical” that more Hoosiers get vaccinated, especially those between the ages of 5 and 59.
She noted, too, that the state is struggling to get ahold of rapid tests, which has led to “overwhelming demand” and hourslong lines at state testing sites, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She said health officials are now “diligently looking” for other sources of rapid tests.
“This situation will get worse before it improves,” Box said. “We expect to see a very steep rise in cases over the next several weeks."
Holcomb additionally announced last week that he extended the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency into the new year following a failed attempt by legislators to quickly approve steps the governor sought to let the declaration expire.
The governor signed the 22nd monthlong extension of the public health emergency he first issued in March 2020 along with an executive order continuing a handful of administrative actions but no business or crowd restrictions. Both orders are in effect until Feb. 1.
Holcomb’s emergency order said about 96% of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and 79% of deaths in the state involved unvaccinated people and stated that “the virus remains a threat to the health, safety and welfare of all residents of Indiana.”