Testing capability remains limited, and that’s about as much as Parkview Health is stating at this point about the coronavirus in northeast Indiana.
How many people have been tested, how the virus may or may not be progressing in counties and how patients who have tested positive are doing are all questions the health system provided limited or no response to.
Parkview Health is the largest medical provider in northeast Indiana. Headquartered in Allen County, it also operates the only hospitals in Noble, LaGrange and DeKalb counties, as well as facilities in Whitley, Huntington, Wabash and Kosciusko counties.
Along with hospitals, Parkview’s umbrella covers many of the doctor offices and other health care facilities in the region.
Specifics about how the coronavirus efforts are evolving in the region, however, is limited.
Testing has been one limiting factor both in the state and across the nation, limiting the ability for health officials to identify who has or doesn’t have the virus. As of press time, while about 14,500 Hoosiers have been tested, that represents only about 0.2% of the Indiana population.
While not everyone needs to be tested, wider availability would help to identify “hotspots” of where the virus is most active.
Local health officers have warned that just because Noble County has one confirmed case — which turned into three cases by press time — and DeKalb County has two confirmed case doesn’t mean the virus hasn’t spread more widely in the community. Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff described the virus as “invisible” at this time, because there are insufficient methods available to better reveal it.
Parkview spokeswoman Tami Brigle said testing capability remains limited, but the health network is pressing to grow its capacity.
“The availability of tests, and sampling supplies, remains limited. Parkview is actively sourcing additional supplies and testing capabilities,” Brigle said.
But when asked how many of at was then Indiana’s 6,900 test cases have come from Parkview facilities, that was a question she couldn’t answer.
“The number of people that have been tested is not public information. However, I can tell you that all our facilities follow the same testing guidelines from the state department of health, and patients who meet those criteria have been submitted for testing,” she said.
Northeast Indiana remains one of the regions that has been less affected by COVID-19 that other parts of the state. While Allen County’s case total is rising quicker, other counties have few or no cases.
In Parkview’s territory, there are still currently no positive cases that have been identified in Whitley, Wabash, Kosciusko counties. Huntington County was on the list as well until it got its first positive case March 26. LaGrange County got its first two cases March 27.
Like local health officials, Parkview is also warning that just because a county doesn’t show up on the statewide COVID-19 dashboard doesn’t mean its safe from the virus.
“A lack of positive tests in any given community does not necessarily indicate that the virus isn’t present. We encourage everyone to follow state and federal directives to reduce the risk of exposure,” Brigle said.
Brigle pointed residents to additional information about testing on Parkview’s website at parkview.com/media/file/COVID%20Testing%20FAQs.pdf.
Lastly, people have been wondering about whether some Hoosiers are recovering from their cases of COVID-19.
Recently, world news outlets have reported that nearly 200,000 people who were infected by COVID-19 have since recovered.
The Indiana State Department of Health dashboard, which is updated at 10 a.m. daily, contains a count of all positively identified cases in Indiana. To this point, those numbers are not being reduced if a patient recovers or dies, so while it gives a full historical view of the virus in Indiana, it may not be a totally accurate count of the situation today.
Noble County’s first positive test case could be a prime example of that. The patient tested positive March 8 — the man was just the fourth positive case in Indiana at the time — but more than two weeks have passed since the patient was isolated at Parkview Noble Hospital.
A two-week isolation period is generally recommended for people who have mild COVID-19 cases, because a patient who is infected should generally be able to fight the virus, clear it and then likely not be infectious to other people.
So with almost three weeks behind the Noble County, has that patient recovered? Parkview declined to release details.
“To protect our patients’ privacy, we cannot provide information about specific patients and/or cases of COVID-19 in our facilities,” Brigle said.
With information about how prevalent the virus is due to limitations in testing — it’s impossible to know at this time how many people may have contracted mild or no symptoms and either are carrying the virus or recovering at home without medical care — and with limited information coming from health networks about how patients who do have the virus or are suspected of having the virus are faring, getting a full grip on the extent of the local epidemic will remain difficult to visualize.