Local IDEM staff members assist with COVID-19 testing

Typically, Susan Raisor, Kevin Stark and Ricky Smith can be found working at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management regional office in Brownstown.

If they aren’t there, they may be working outside somewhere.

Recently, they stepped away from their regular duties and assisted the Indiana State Department of Health with COVID-19 testing in the soccer field/baseball field parking lot on the Seymour High School campus.

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All three served as data coordinators. As people drove their vehicles into the parking lot and pulled up to one of the tents, they were greeted by Raisor, Stark or Smith, who verified their personal information and had them answer a series of questions.

Then the person pulled forward to have a nurse perform the nasal swab. Test results were available within 72 hours.

“As people arrived, most of them seemed to have heard about the nasopharyngeal swab and that it is not very comfortable. The comparison that I have heard is that the swab is similar to the flu swab,” Smith said.

“We received a lot of positive feedback for the service we were providing. Many people thanked us for conducting the test sites,” Stark said. “The nasal swab is a little uncomfortable, so I would just tell people that it would be over shortly.”

The free testing in Seymour was part of a second wave offered by the ISDH. There are 50 drive-thru testing sites opening under a nearly $18 million state contract with OptumServe Health Services.

The program aims to test 100,000 people in the first month, largely limited to those who have COVID-19 symptoms or are in close contact with someone ill with the disease.

That would nearly double the number of test results reported to the state health department since early March but would still be far below the minimum of 20,000 daily tests that the chairman of drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. said should be conducted in Indiana, according to The Associated Press.

Employees of the Indiana State Police and members of the Indiana National Guard are assisting at the sites.

The ISDH also is collaborating with the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to conduct a scientific study to measure the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.

The closely monitored study will include random sample testing for SARS-CoV-2 — the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — viral infections and antibodies in Hoosiers. It consists of a nasal swab and a blood draw.

The first of four phases over the next year began April 25 and ended May 2. It involves ISDH and IU performing scientifically valid random sampling of Hoosiers. In total, at least 20,000 Hoosiers will be tested for the study.

Select members of the public are being asked to participate by invitation to ensure the sampling is representative of the population. The scientific study will enable the state to take a critical step forward in understanding how COVID-19 is affecting Hoosiers.

Raisor had the same role while helping with that testing. She and her team visited six cities in five days and tested nearly 225 people.

“At sites I assisted at, we saw individuals ranging in age from 13 to 86 as well as a variety of genders and races,” she said. “We were set up in parking lots in each town and experienced a variety of weather conditions, including cold, rain, winds, warm and sun.”

The 14-hour days were spent at testing sites in Bloomington, Columbus, Bedford, Seymour, Paoli and Salem.

“Although the days were long and the conditions weren’t always favorable, I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate and be a small part of so many agencies and groups coming together for the study,” Raisor said.

During the recent drive-thru clinic in Seymour, Raisor, Smith and Stark all liked seeing the state agencies work together to offer a critical service.

“As a state employee, I felt a responsibility to help ISDH when they requested help from IDEM. Although we are separate agencies, we all work for the state, and it was good to come together to assist where needed,” Raisor said.

“I immediately thought this would be a great opportunity for me to help the surrounding communities and Hoosiers in general,” Smith said. “This has been a tremendous effort by the National Guard, ISDH, ISP and IDEM all working together to provide testing to Hoosiers around the state. I have really appreciated how each of these agencies have come together and truly been #inthistogether.”

Stark said he was excited for the opportunity to provide the service to the public.

“Everyone worked very well together and as a team,” he said. “Our site coordinator, Sarah Briley, was very professional and led our team well. Having ISP and the National Guard on-site was very helpful. Their presence provided assurance in case something got out of control.”

Now that they have experienced the testing firsthand, the trio encourage people to assist the state’s efforts to combat the virus.

“I would encourage those who are in those high-risk categories to be tested. The more people who are aware, the more they can protect those around them,” Raisor said.

Whether they are invited to be a part of the study or go to a drive-thru clinic, Smith said the information gathered will greatly benefit Hoosiers and get the state back on track.

“Testing is being expanded, and people who have been exposed or are having symptoms, please come and get tested,” he said. “For people who are concerned with the virus, please listen closely to Gov. Holcomb and the Indiana State Department of Health as they provide updates.”

Stark said everyone should take part in the testing.

“The data collected is crucial to our state moving forward during this pandemic,” he said.

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The free COVID-19 exam is now available locally. For information, visit coronavirus.in.gov/2524.htm.

An Indiana State Department of Health website lists the OptumServe Health Services testing sites and nearly 80 other locations where tests are available. Registration for the OptumServe testing can be done at lhi.care/covidtesting.