Ohio steps up rapid coronavirus testing via schools, libraries

Mar. 16—COLUMBUS — Even though employees in K-12 schools have been vaccinated against coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine has announced that 200,000 rapid tests are heading their way as part of an effort to maintain confidence in the safety of in-person instruction.

The same rapid tests — for use at home under the guidance of an online teleprompter — are also being made available to the public through local libraries and health departments. Another 150,000 tests have been made available to federally qualified health centers to be administered on site free of charge to underserved communities.

"Throughout the pandemic schools have had low transmission rates from the virus because of masks, social distancing, safety procedures," the governor said last week. "Now we're adding testing to this environment to increase confidence in safety in our schools.

"...We encourage our schools to take advantage of this resource and develop aggressive testing plans," he said.

Tests are being shipped to Educational Service Centers for distribution to local schools.

In January, the governor announced Ohio's plan to use $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to buy 2 million tests through Abbott Laboratories and eMed, a telehealth company headed by Dr. Patrice Harris, former president of the American Medical Association. The BinaxNOW test provides results at home in about 15 minutes.

The plan at the time was to send these tests to local health departments for rapid deployment should any virus hotspots pop up. Now, with attention shifted much more toward vaccination, the state is making them available to schools and to the public through local libraries.

"We've seen local health departments who've decided to partner with schools," Mr. DeWine said. "They've partnered with non-profit organizations and first responders to provide these tests."

He said nearly 120 library systems, representing about 250 locations, are participating.

Between libraries and health departments, Mr. DeWine said in-home testing will be available in 76 of the state's 88 counties.

Toledo Public Library spokesman Kelsey Rader said the system has received 1,500 tests and will order more as needed.

"They will be available by calling any library location," she said. After reserving the tests, they may be picked up at library sites' grab-and-go pickup stations to take home to complete the process.

"You have to have the app and a laptop, PC, or tablet with a video camera," Ms. Rader said. "None of our computers have cameras."

Ann Cipriani, health services coordinator for Toledo Public Schools, said the district has been working with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department to prevent coronavirus spread.

"We are currently working together to develop a distribution plan for these tests and usage guidelines," she said.

The DeWine administration in February prioritized vaccines for teachers, administrators, custodians, bus drivers, and other K-12 school employees as part of a deal to get schools back to at least part-time in-classroom instruction by March 1. The vast majority complied.

Overall testing has dropped off since January as vaccines have become more widely available. The rolling seven-day average of tests coming back positive was 3 percent as of Saturday, a far cry from the better than 15 percent that at one point in December had placed Ohio on its own travel advisory list.