Harris urges administration to establish at least one permanent testing site in Lake County
INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Earl Harris Jr. (D-East Chicago) today sent a letter to the Governor urging him to consider setting up a permanent testing site through OptumServe Health Services in Lake County. Currently, asymptomatic Lake County residents who want free testing must go to the closest OptumServe site in Porter County.
In his letter, Harris argues that because Lake County is the second-most populous county in Indiana, it should have at least one OptumServe site, if not several, as Marion County currently has three sites available to residents. He also points out that though Dr. Box indicated the state was conducting testing in predominately minority areas, specifically Gary and Merrillville, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) has failed to provide consistent testing in Lake County.
In April, ISDH announced that it would open a total of 50 additional COVID-19 testing sites in Indiana: 20 sites across Indiana National Guard armories and 30 additional sites. However, only 36 testing sites remain open – none of which are in Lake County.
“It is of utmost importance that all Hoosiers have access to COVID-19 testing, especially our minority population who we know is at higher risk,” Harris said.
“I simply want to make sure the administration is making good on its promises to Lake County and providing as much assistance as possible. There is an easy solution to this problem and I hope to see more steps being taken to protect my constituents very soon.”
Read the full letter below.
July 02, 2020
The Honorable Eric Holcomb
Governor of Indiana
200 West Washington Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204
Dear Governor Holcomb,
I want to thank you and Dr. Box for your ongoing assistance to slow down the spread of the coronavirus in Indiana. I write you this letter to request that you designate a permanent Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) and OptumServices COVID-19 testing site in Lake County, as we enter into Stage 4.5 of your “Back on Track” plan to fully reopen.
I am very appreciative of your administration's help in providing free temporary testing to residents of East Chicago over these past weekends, but our county continues to operate without having everyday access to free testing from a fixed ISDH/Optum site. As you know, Lake County is the second-most populous county in Indiana, and we have more than 35,000 residents who commute back and forth to Illinois every day. Lake County also has the second-most number of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths in the state, just lagging behind Marion County.
You have repeatedly claimed that your administration is taking proactive steps to increase testing accessibility for Hoosiers of color. However, the lack of a permanent testing site in Lake County is in direct contradiction to that statement. On April 14, 2020, the IBLC sent a letter to you and Dr. Box urging you to address the racial disparities seen within the COVID-19 public health crisis. That same day, Dr. Box indicated that the state was conducting testing in predominantly minority areas. She also said that the state was trying to get into areas in Gary and Merrillville so that they could reach those populations, rather than them having to travel long distances in order to be tested.
That was 79 days ago, and Lake County still does not have a designated permanent ISDH/Optum testing site. On April 28, 2020, you announced that the ISDH would collaborate with Optum to open 20 COVID-19 testing sites across Indiana National Guard armories and that an additional 30 testing sites would open in the next 14 days, totaling to 50 testing sites. To date, only 11 testing sites remain open since your announcement back in April and the state has added 25 new testing sites in 32 counties statewide, but none of those new counties included Lake County.
Protecting our Hoosiers should be the number one goal during this pandemic, and a permanent testing site in Lake County would go a long way in helping us. The Hoosiers of Lake County need your help now more than ever, and that is why I am asking you to please designate at least one free ISDH/Optum testing site in Lake County that is stationed in either East Chicago, Gary, or Hammond. I hope we can continue to work together on this so that we may protect the public, provide essential services, and do the important work of rebuilding our economy as we enter into Stage 4.5. Thank you.
Earl L. Harris, Jr.
Indiana House District 2