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Summit County provides $1.4 million for coronavirus mass testing

Akron Beacon Journal logo Akron Beacon Journal 7/1/2020 Emily Mills
a man wearing a blue hat: Leon Byrd, 63, of Akron gets tested for COVID-19 in the parking lot of The House of the Lord church on Saturday. Summit County Public Health and Summa Health partnered with The House of the Lord for the first of several community testing events open to the general public to test for COVID-19. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal] © Provided by Akron Beacon Journal Leon Byrd, 63, of Akron gets tested for COVID-19 in the parking lot of The House of the Lord church on Saturday. Summit County Public Health and Summa Health partnered with The House of the Lord for the first of several community testing events open to the general public to test for COVID-19. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Summit County is giving $1.4 million in federal dollars to Summit County Public Health for the development and implementation of a countywide COVID-19 mass testing program.

Summit County Council on Monday approved a resolution authorizing the county executive to execute a grant agreement with the health department using part of the $94.4 million the county received in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.

As the virus has affected residents in certain at-risk groups and ZIP codes, the county said insufficient testing has been and will continue to be a problem in the community unless a mass testing program is developed.

The money will fund equipment, materials, services, supplies and personnel. As the program will result in a need for expanded laboratory capacity, the county is allocating part of the funding to increase capacity and testing capability from the current level of 200 tests per day to 400 to 450 tests per day.

"We're hopeful that we can do this more comprehensive approach," said Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda. "Rite Aid is here, and CVS is here, and that's helpful, but it's for a certain group of individuals. We want to make sure everybody has access to a test that can get it."

Summit County Public Health identified at-risk groups — including people living in congregate living settings like assisted living and nursing facilities, veterans homes and homeless and domestic violence shelters — as initial targets of the mass testing program.

The virus can spread quickly in congregate living settings, where many people live together and where employees can bring in the virus and spread it to residents, who can be vulnerable to complications or death because of their age or medical condition.

The plan will also help prepare capacity to respond to community outbreaks not related to congregate living settings, like outbreaks in workplaces and among critical infrastructure personnel, public safety and health personnel and workers in critical industries like food production, information technology and transportation.

The health department will prioritize testing other at-risk populations, like front-line staff, including long-term care staff; minority populations, including the refugee and immigrant communities; and those with limited English proficiency.

The pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on Black and Asian residents in Summit County, with 24.26% and 18.77% of the county's cases, respectively, despite making up 15.1% and 3.9% of the county's population, respectively.

The health department's epidemiology unit used data mapping of current cases to determine the areas of highest need within the county fall within the 44310, 44305 and 44320 ZIP codes, with the health department targeting testing in those areas.

Several community-based testing sites are in the development phase, including in Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority senior high rises (including Belcher, Saferstein Towers I & II and Lauer) and Alpha Phi Alpha Homes.

The health department is working on additional community testing sites with AxessPointe Community Health Centers and Asian Services in Action Inc. after hosting a weekend of testing at The House of the Lord in West Akron, with 1,394 tests completed. Ninety percent of those tested were from Summit County, but people from 16 other counties were also tested.

The majority of tests at daily locations still require a doctor's order and are limited to people with symptoms.

Cleveland Clinic Akron General has two testing sites — 1940 Town Park Blvd. in Green and 676 S. Broadway in downtown Akron — limited to caregivers, pre-operative patients and people with COVID-19 symptoms with a doctor's order and an appointment.

Several stores such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid offer drive-up testing.

Skoda called testing "a limiting factor across the country."

"I get increasingly concerned that we need to take care of Summit County. And I don't mean that I wouldn't share, but we really have to worry about what we have available here and build capacity," she said. "With these other hotspots cropping up across the country, I am fearful that testing will become short-supplied again and reagents will become short-supplied again."

Along with issues with testing availability, there are also issues with ensuring labs have the capacity to process tests. The health department recently signed a contract with Quest Diagnostics and also uses Summa Health and Cleveland Clinic.

The breakdown of the funding includes $1.04 million for testing teams, including $60,000 for equipment, $30,000 for materials and supplies, $250,000 for personnel (including tester teams and registration personnel), and $700,000 for contracts and vendors (including law enforcement, EMS, interpreters/translation and lab analysis fees).

The rest of the funding — $285,741 — will go toward expanding lab capacity, with $115,141 for a DNA/RNA purification system, $77,000 for materials and supplies (including reagents, shipping expenses and a viral HEPA filter), and $93,600 for personnel (three FTEs through December).

Skoda said the state is working on pop-up testing sites, and the National Guard is testing in long-term care facilities across the state. If facilities have no positive cases, only staff are tested; if there are positive cases, both residents and staff are tested.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Akron would have pop-up testing sites, but none have been announced. Several have happened in the southern part of the state, which is seeing a rising number of cases.

The state provides little information to local health departments on the testing sites, Skoda said, adding she can't explain why there's a disconnect and has told DeWine there needs to be coordination.

"We have been on so many calls and we have begged, please just let us know where you're going and when you're coming and particularly if you need staff or resources," she said.

As of Tuesday, Summit County had 1,935 cumulative confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 206 deaths, with 159 deaths residing in long-term care facilities.

Skoda said hospitalizations have not ticked up and deaths have slowed in Summit County, while the average age of people testing positive in the county has dropped from 56 or 57 to 51. Skoda attributes that to aspects of the state's reopening, with people not socially distancing or people congregating in restaurants or bars.

Although most of the people who are dying of COVID-19 in Summit County are older, Skoda said younger people can still have difficult recoveries, with effects to people's hearts and lungs or neurological impairment, and the long-term effects remain unknown.

"More and more, the evidence is showing even if you're younger and you recover...you won't come back to what you used to be," she said. "There's a lot of misconception out there about it doesn't hurt young folks. We don't know who gets really sick, and let me tell you, some of the recoveries have not been pretty."

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at emills@thebeaconjournal.com.

Summit County Public Health coronavirus testing plan by emills11 on Scribd

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