Fairbanks study finds coronavirus infection rate 10X greater than previously thought

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — A recent study by the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health, and confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, indicates COVID-19 is likely more widespread in Indiana than was first thought, and the chances of dying from the coronavirus is much higher compared to influenza.

The CDC’s decision to publish the Fairbanks study now is giving researchers across the country and around the world a better handle on how pervasive and deadly the virus is.

“It is certainly possible that people may be infected and not know about it,” said Dr. Nir Menachemi, author of the study that is the only one of its kind the U.S. “You might have already been infected and not know about it.”

The Indiana State Department of Health today reported 58,673 total confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Indiana, an overall 9% positivity rate based on 654,413 tests.

Marion County is reported to have 13,094 total confirmed cases, an overall 12.3% positivity rate based on 106,695 tests.

But Dr. Menachemi said those raw numbers don’t necessarily paint the full picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in Indiana or Indianapolis.

“The people who test positive are not necessarily representative of everyone who is infected, mainly because we’ve had a shortage of tests in the U.S., so, who gets tested are the people who are most symptomatic and the most severe and most worried, so that probably leaves out a big chunk of folks who are asymptomatic or not as severe.

“We know most about the disease from people at the top of the pyramid and not even all that are medically attended are tested,” said Dr. Menachemi. “But it’s still not capturing everyone who is symptomatic and asymptomatic but not getting tested or not going to the doctor, and this bottom of the pyramid we estimated to be about 10 times larger than the top of the pyramid.”

According to the Fairbanks model, it’s possible up to approximately 600,000 Hoosiers have been infected with the coronavirus.

The study finds the chances of dying from a confirmed case of COVID-19 at one in 172, making the disease six times more lethal than influenza.

A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows a sharp uptick in positive coronavirus cases beginning about a month ago in Indiana.

The seven-day daily positive infection rate average statewide bottomed out in mid-June at 4.9%, according to ISDH figures, but has climbed steadily back up to 8% this past week.

In Marion County, that seven-day daily positive return rate dropped to 4.3% a month ago, but has bounced back up to 10.3% over the last seven days.

Those daily percentage increases come as more low-risk or non-symptomatic individuals have sought testing.

Soon, parents throughout Marion County will be sending their children back to school, colleges across the state will reopen for the fall semester, and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is expected to welcome some 60,000 fans to the corner of West 16th Street and Georgetown Road on August 23.

“To the extent possible, we’d love to test people at the Indy 500 if that was possible,” said Dr. Menachemi. “Set up booths and make sure that people are getting tested and make sure people are adhering to guidelines.”

As of today, ISDH reported the coronavirus death toll in Indiana at 2,666.

The IHME model predicts COVID-19 will take 3,382 Hoosier lives by the first of November.

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