INDIANAPOLIS — A large number of people can contract and spread COVID-19 without becoming symptomatic, with that becoming even more likely with the delta variant of the virus, making it "absolutely incorrect" that virus quarantines aren't needed, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Box said Friday.

Box struck down the notion after being asked by KPC Media Group Friday to respond to a statement made Thursday by Whitley County Commissioners stating they believe that people exposed to COVID-19 positive people should just be allowed to carry on as normal.

On Thursday, Whitley County Commissioners Chad Banks, George Schrumpf and Theresa Green issued a joint statement stating they oppose mask and vaccine mandates, but also stating they were opposed to quarantine requirements.

"We as Commissioners also do not support contact tracing quarantines. We believe individuals who may have been in close contact but show no COVID symptoms should be allowed to attend work or school without interruption. We believe in a commonsense approach to COVID that allows for individual freedom," the statement said.

Box strongly disagreed with that sentiment, stating that numerous studies have shown that people can become infected and contagious before becoming symptomatic or without ever becoming symptomatic.

Box pointed to a study by the IUPUI Fairbanks School of Public Medicine in April 2020 — a time before testing was widely available — that randomly tested thousands of Hoosiers to check for infection. That study showed that about 45% of people who were infected with the virus at that time were totally asymptomatic.

"We know 100% that up to 48 hours before, and with the delta variant it may be even longer than that, before you become symptomatic," Box said.

Studies of the delta variant have shown that it can replicate much faster and people can shed more virus sooner before even realizing they're ill, which is part of the reason why the variant has been pegged as being about two to three times more infectious than the original strain.

Estimates of the delta variant's R0, "r-naught" value, which measures on average how many other people an infected person might infect, at about six to seven people, while the original strain was about two to three.

Box said the notion that people who test positive but are asymptomatic or asymptomatic people who are close contacts of someone who contracts the virus can just resume normal activity and be fine is flat wrong.

"That's why that concept doesn't work. That's absolutely incorrect and not an appropriate or correct process," Box said.

The full letter from the Commissioners reads:

"Recent changes to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) have prompted the Whitley County Board of Commissioners to offer the following statement.

"In Whitley County, we believe masking and immunizations are a decision for individuals to make and should not be mandated. Anyone eligible for a COVID vaccine can obtain this through Whitley County’s Health Department and anyone who wishes to wear a mask may do so but anyone who chooses to forego masks and vaccinations also has that right.

"We as Commissioners also do not support contact tracing quarantines. We believe individuals who may have been in close contact but show no COVID symptoms should be allowed to attend work or school without interruption. We believe in a commonsense approach to COVID that allows for individual freedom.

"Whitley County Board of Commissioner"

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