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Up to 20% of Hoosiers likely have COVID-19, says health data expert at Regenstrief Institute

Dr. Brian Dixon calls rising cases "frightening"
Posted at 1:52 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 20:11:56-05

A COVID-19 data expert calls Indiana’s latest case and hospitalization numbers “frightening” and says at this point, up to 20% of Hoosiers have likely been infected with the virus.

Dr. Brian Dixon is the Director of Public Health Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, which helps advise state health officials on diseases.

For the past few days, Indiana has reported more than 6,000 cases a day of COVID-19, and on Monday reported 5,218 new cases and 26 new deaths.

"The numbers we are seeing on the state's dashboard and the Regenstrief's dashboard are frightening,” said Dixon. “This increase, this trend, in new cases really began in late September and just carried through until now. So, we've seen no decline in the last several weeks, and Indiana along with many other states are calling it an exponential growth path which means if we don't act we will continue to see numbers go even higher through the holiday season which is scary.”

Dixon is an associate professor at the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health.

He said the increase in cases is not a result of increased testing, despite what many believe.

"The number of cases we are finding is outpacing the volume of increased testing we are doing, so that's where the positivity number comes into play,” said Dixon. “We are seeing positivity well over 10% and we're seeing positivity increase 1% every few days and that means there are a lot more cases and a lot more community spread and it's happening in almost every county of the state.”

Dixon said the numbers show COVID-19 is “running rampant” through the population.

In a room of 10 people, up to 2 of them are likely to have the virus or have already had it, said Dixon.

It’s something families need to keep in mind when planning for the holidays.

"So, if you're having a get-together of maybe 20-30 people at your house then there's likely half a dozen of them that have the virus,” said Dixon. “We're really encouraging people to have smaller gatherings.”

Dixon said a lot of asymptomatic people have never been tested and have not been discovered through contact tracing.

Hospitalizations hit record levels last week, and some facilities are already hitting their breaking point.

On Monday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 2,768 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Dixon said state leaders need to consider restrictions that will truly make a difference in the rising numbers—especially on activities that involve not wearing masks, like eating and drinking.

"I think our leaders should think about these strategies,” said Dixon. “No one wants to see a business close or shut down permanently but really put some restrictions in place to help people make the right choice over this holiday season."