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Coronavirus In Ohio: Health Department Hasn't Met Testing Goals As Businesses Reopen

The laboratory test kit used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The laboratory test kit used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

When Gov. Mike DeWine first spoke about lifting the state's stay-at-home orders, he emphasized that coronavirus testing would be a crucial component of safely reopening.

On April 24, DeWine declared, “beginning this coming Wednesday, our capacity will be 7,200 tests per day. That number will grow in a week to 15,000 per day. By May 13, it will be 18,800.”

Even as the vast majority of Ohio's economy is allowed to reopen, the state's actual testing numbers have fallen far below that projection.

According to the Department of Health, Ohio is currently averaging about 7,200 tests a day. Cumulatively, the state has tested 216,290 people so far, a small fraction of its population of 11.7 million.

The state says it has the capacity to test about 14,000 people per day, which is already less than what DeWine had hoped for by this time. And there's a variety of reasons why state is only testing about half its capacity.

Dr. Mark Herbert, an infectious disease specialist from Mount Carmel Health System, says there have been issues with testing supply lines.

“We’ve had issues with shortages of swabs,” Herbert says. “Shortages of transport materials, shortages of reagents for testing.”

Ohio has also encountered issues with getting those tests processed by labs around the state.

The governor announced new testing protocols last week, largely to prioritize the testing of people going in to hospitals for surgeries. The state had previously stopped elective surgeries, in part to preserve personal protective equipment, but also because those patients need to be tested for COVID-19 before they interact with a surgical team.

“In the process of starting elective surgeries, we had to do very careful calculations to be sure we have enough materials to test patients who want to come back for surgery,” Herbert says. “And we do have enough, but we don’t have a surplus.”

While the Ohio Department of Health tracks the total number of tests performed, they do not track the number of individual people tested.

It’s rare for patients to be tested multiple times, but it does happen in some cases. Many nursing homes require residents to test negative twice, 24 hours apart, to return from the hospital.

As a result, some people are tested anywhere from two to eight times before getting negative results.

“Ninety percent of people will be diagnosed with a one-time test only,” says Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, the medical director of infectious diseases at Ohio Health. “But I tell this to every doctor: No test is 100% sensitive, and if your clinical suspicion is so high with the first original test, test them again.”

Gastaldo says the small percentage of people who are being tested more than once are not skewing the numbers that the Ohio Department of Health reports.