Dayton-area institutions — soon with help from the Ohio National Guard — are working to scale back up coronavirus testing capacity to meet a level of demand not seen since last winter.
About a year ago, area health departments largely stepped back from testing to focus on administering coronavirus vaccines. Other providers also scaled back their testing then.
Now, statewide daily testing volume mirrors last winter’s peak and Dayton-area test providers are experiencing a surge in demand as Ohio reports record daily case numbers. Those case numbers are likely an undercount since tests are so difficult to find, and many Ohioans are taking tests at home without reporting results to the state.
In the past week, about 30% of Ohioans who got tested for COVID-19 not at home were positive, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Bonnie Roads, her husband and her daughter, all of Union, attempted to get tested at CVS, Walgreens and an urgent care before going on Tuesday to Premier Health’s drive-up testing location at OnMain, the old Montgomery County fairgrounds. Roads said she knows many people who are sick and desperate for tests.
Dayton institutions are working to meet that need for more testing. Premier Health and its CompuNet Clinical Laboratories expanded staffing at the OnMain testing location in recent days.
“We routinely flex our staffing and capacity to meet increases and decreases in demand,” said Premier Health spokesman Ben Sutherly.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday evening that Ohio National Guard members are being deployed across the state (like they were last winter) to assist with testing. This will include a new location in Cincinnati and expanding capacity at existing locations in Dayton and Springfield. A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health said more details will be coming soon.
“Testing is incredibly crucial at this point in the pandemic, especially when we’re seeing a surge,” said Dr. Mohammad Mahdee Sobhanie, an infectious disease physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “When we look at COVID, we have to use a multi-pronged approach: testing is crucial, treatment is crucial and vaccination is crucial.”
Wide testing is important to prevent further spread, Sobhanie said, and early diagnosis is critical for getting life-saving treatments like monoclonal antibodies to the most at-risk coronavirus patients.
Rapid tests and omicron
Two types of COVID-19 tests exist. The PCR test is a molecular test that is more accurate, but results can take a while. An antigen or rapid test delivers results in minutes but is generally less accurate. Rapid tests can be administered by a medical professional or come in take-home kits.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said antigen tests are less sensitive to the new COVID-19 variant Omicron compared to previous variants. Sobhanie said rapid tests still have a role to play in getting people quick results, but he advised those with symptoms who test negative using a rapid test to seek out a PCR test. Few false positives occur.
Demand is up
Dayton Children’s said demand for pediatric tests has increased in recent weeks.
Premier Health is also reporting strong demand for tests across its health system. Since the start of the new year, the OnMain testing location has seen about 300 people seeking testing per day. That’s more than double the volumes of early December, and more than three times the demand there in October.
Kettering Health did not return a request for comment in time for publication.
Dayton Metro Library announced on its website Tuesday morning that it had free at-home test kits available at all its branches. By 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the library had given out all of its 1,435 kits.
Health departments have mostly stepped back from testing
Both Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County and Greene County Public Health stopped administering coronavirus tests in late 2020 or early 2021 to focus on administering COVID-19 vaccines.
Miami County Public Health spokeswoman Vicky Knisley-Henry said, “MCPH hasn’t necessarily switched focus. We have offered at-home test kits and vaccination appointments since they were available. However, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19, but testing has always been promoted as well … At this time there are no plans to offer PCR testing.” MCPH was out of rapid tests Tuesday and waiting for more supply.
Warren County Health District has one nurse administering COVID tests who is very busy lately, said spokeswoman Shelly Norton. She said WCHD is prioritizing testing symptomatic residents because the department’s ability to test is so limited.
Where to get tested
Find locations offering coronavirus tests by visiting the Ohio Department of Health’s website: coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/dashboards/other-resources/testing-ch-centers