Coronavirus: Ohio to ramp up testing in May thanks to new swab, reagent suppliers

First responders from across the region honored health care workers Tuesday evening at multiple hospitals on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.At Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, police and fire crews flashed lights and sounded sirens as hospital workers waved at the parade that circled the campus. PHOTO: Jim Noelker

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First responders from across the region honored health care workers Tuesday evening at multiple hospitals on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.At Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, police and fire crews flashed lights and sounded sirens as hospital workers waved at the parade that circled the campus. PHOTO: Jim Noelker

Ohio’s capacity to test for the coronavirus will be increased in May with a new supply line of reagent — a crucial element to testing kits — and a deal with a Cleveland-based dental lab to manufacture nasal swabs, Gov. Mike DeWine said on Friday.

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Ohio struck an agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific to provide the state with a supply of reagent, a chemical used in the tests, and an agreement with ROE Dental Laboratory to manufacture up to 1-million nasal swabs.

The two deals will boost Ohio’s testing capacity to 22,000 a day by May 27, up from the 3,700 tests done on an average day now, the DeWine administration said.

The federal Food & Drug Administration this week gave Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher approval to make a new reagent for coronavirus tests.

Local health departments also will enlist roughly 1,750 contract tracers — a combination of volunteers, medical students and public health workers who will reach out to people who had close contact with anyone who had a positive coronavirus test and advise them to self-quarantine.

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Public health experts have said that safely re-opening the economy hinges on access to widespread testing, robust contact tracing capabilities and adequate personal protective equipment. Like other states, Ohio has struggled on all three of those fronts and has taken dramatic steps to ration testing kits and preserve protective gear for front line health care workers.

On Monday, DeWine plans to release details on how Ohio will begin to gradually re-open segments of the economy. The governor said he will provide a “hopeful schedule” but added that the state will continue to closely monitor case numbers and hospitalizations. DeWine acknowledged that hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and other supplies needed to re-open businesses is in short supply, but he believes the market will catch up.

In the past month, the situation for providing a safe workplace has vastly improved, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.

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Ohio Department of Health reported Friday there are 14,581 cases, plus 588 probable cases; 3,053 hospitalizations; 649 deaths, plus 41 deaths attributed to probable cases.

The confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States surpassed 50,000, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

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Ohioans with loved ones incarcerated by the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction demonstrated outside the Statehouse on Friday, calling on DeWine to vastly expand his criteria for which inmates may be released early.

DRC reports that it has 3,816 confirmed cases in 22 of 28 prisons, with the bulk of them at Marion Correctional, Pickaway Correctional and Franklin Medical Center. Additionally, 346 DRC staff members have tested positive.

Organizer Chazidy Bowman of Cincinnati said she is worried there will be severe outbreaks in other prisons where social distancing is nearly impossible and access to hand washing is sometimes limited.

“They were not ready for a pandemic so, yeah, it’s going to spread if they don’t do something now,” Bowman said.

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DeWine has commuted sentences and sought early release for less than 300 inmates and the governor noted that the DRC inmate count has dropped by 844 prisoners over the past five weeks.

DRC has some 49,000 inmates.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

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