Indiana health officials: State lab could soon test for omicron variant

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indiana State Department of Health told News 8 on Wednesday that it anticipates its lab could soon be testing for the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

ISDH’s statement to News 8 also said that Indiana continues to participate in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s variant surveillance program “and conducts our own sequencing in addition to the CDC program.

“We continue to urge Hoosiers to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID, including getting a vaccine, practicing social distancing, frequently washing their hands and wearing a mask when in public,” the statement concluded.

Shortly after the delta variant first popped up earlier this year in the United States, demand grew for COVID-19 tests across Indiana. In late summer and early fall, the Department of Health opened several new testing sites through a partnership with a Kentucky-based lab to offer free, same-day, drive-thru testing.

Now, with the omicron variant emerging, local health departments say they’re ready for the possibility of another increase. A spokesperson with the Marion County Public Health department said in a statement to News 8: “As part of our ongoing response to COVID-19, we prepare for any possible expanding of efforts in vaccination and testing if needed.”

The statement from the Marion County health officials also said that the Indianapolis department, “like other public health departments, is waiting to learn more as scientists and the medical community work to understand the transmissibility of the variant, whether or not it can cause severe disease, and the possible impact it might have on the effectiveness of current vaccines and any therapeutics or antiviral medications related to the coronavirus.

“The health department joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to strongly encourage adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness. We also encourage boosters for those who are eligible to help enhance their immunity. In addition to COVID-19 vaccine, flu vaccine is strongly encouraged especially in young adults. Both COVID-19 and flu vaccines can be administered at the same visit to a medical provider.”

North of Indianapolis in Hamilton County, more people already are making appointments for tests and vaccinations. Christian Walker, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Noblesville-based Hamilton County Health Department, said that rise in appointments is likely because of the holidays. “More people are traveling. There’s more requirements to go do, social activities, so we see them coming in so we do know demand is up.”

So far though, Walker said, the Hamilton County department has no supply shortage concerns.

“The reason we are sticking with appointments for the 5 to 11 year olds is because they do take a little bit more time than the older kids or adults who can just roll up their sleeve, get the shot and move over to the observation area. Kids require a little more attention, which takes a little more time; adult vaccine, not a problem. We are more than welcome to have people to just walk in. Testing, we do have plenty of supplies, we have no problem getting PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. Right now, they do still take around two or three days turnaround time,” Walker said.