INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A statewide study estimates that at least 2.8% of Indiana’s population has been infected by the coronavirus, a rate about 10 times that shown by previous testing, Indiana University researchers said Wednesday.
Indianapolis officials announced some city business restrictions will start being eased on Friday after similar limits being lifted last week around most other parts of the state. Those steps come as Indiana’s death toll from confirmed or probable COVID-19 illnesses has grown past 1,600 people.
The testing of about 4,600 people at random around the state found 1.7% were infected at the time of the test and 1.1% tested positive for antibodies showing they were previously exposed. The tests were done by IU’s Fairbanks School of Public Health over a week ending May 1.
The findings project that Indiana has seen a 0.58% fatality rate among those infected. That rate is almost six times greater than the death rate for seasonal flu, said Nir Menachemi, a professor who led the study.
Nearly 45% of those infected reported experiencing no symptoms of the COVID-19 respiratory disease. Menachemi said that highlighted the need for people to practice social distancing and wear masks in public to avoid unknowingly spreading the coronavirus.
“The needs to minimize the risk of infection spread will probably not go away until we have a vaccine or a really good treatment that can deal with everyone infected,” Menachemi said.
A statewide order from Gov. Eric Holcomb started lifting many business and travel restrictions starting May 4.
Menachemi said the IU researchers plan a new round of random testing in early June that will look for any increased coronavirus spread connected with the state’s reopening steps.
“We’ll get the first glimpse of how the relaxing of some of the issues have impacted the population,” he said.
The projected infection rate would mean about 186,000 Indiana residents had the coronavirus by the end of April, when the state health department reported fewer than 19,000 confirmed infections. The agency reported nearly 25,500 infections as of Wednesday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Wednesday that Indiana’s largest city will begin easing its pandemic restrictions starting Friday after health tracking data showed the city was ready to enter “a path toward reopening, incrementally, our local economy.”
Public gatherings — including religious services — will be permitted to increase from the county’s current 10-person limit to 25, and nonessential retail stores, including liquor stores, can begin opening to the public at 50% capacity.
The mayor said that starting May 22, the city will allow in-person dining to resume at restaurants but only for outdoor seating “and with strict social-distancing guidelines” and required masks for restaurant workers. However, indoor restaurant dining will continue to not be permitted.
Tougher local restrictions have remained in Indianapolis, northwestern Indiana’s Lake County and rural northern Indiana’s Cass County, where a large coronavirus outbreak infected hundreds of Tyson meatpacking plant workers.
Hogsett said that if the trajectory of coronavirus cases “continues to stabilize and hopefully decline” more city restrictions could be lifted by June 1.
Indiana’s coronavirus death toll has grown past 1,600 people as state health officials on Wednesday added 41 fatalities involving confirmed or probable infections to the tally.
The Indiana State Department of Health recorded 38 newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths, most of which occurred Monday or Tuesday, along with three additional deaths considered coronavirus-related by doctors but without confirmation of the illness from test results.
One of the newly confirmed deaths dated back to April 22, which gives that date 48 deaths and makes it the state’s deadliest single day during the pandemic. The latest state statistics list 1,482 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, along with 137 deaths with probable infections.