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COVID-19 Is Spreading In Central Ohio, But Getting Tested Remains Challenging

A medical professional performs the COVID-19 test at a drive up testing site in Merrillville, Indiana.
Justin Hicks
Indiana Public Broadcasting
A medical professional performs the COVID-19 test at a drive up testing site in Merrillville, Indiana.

After working as a legal observer at recent protests, local attorney Adam Vincent got tested a few weeks ago, with his results coming back negative. But recently, he started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, so he wanted to get tested again.

Local CVS locations that offer testing had no appointments available, so he called Columbus Public Health. They were also booked up for the day. Then he called Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

After waiting on hold, Vincent says an operator told him they were not re-testing people.

“It was really frustrating because I kept thinking, if I can’t get tested right away, obviously there’s an increase in cases, and all these health places are super busy with people calling in to get testing,” Vincent says. “If I can't get tested today, how long will it take? And whenever I do get one, how backed are the labs to actually give the results?"

Vincent says he was on the phone for hours, and worries that many people may not be able to take time away from work or child care to do the same.

COVID-19 testing is more widely available in Central Ohio now compared to when the pandemic began. But as cases spike again, local residents report vastly different experiences accessing tests, including wide ranges in the time it takes to get results returned.

“Our testing now is busier than it ever has been,” says Daniel Bachman, an emergency physician at the Wexner Medical Center. “On our busiest days, we are seeing more than 1,300 patients tested in one day.”

Bachman says the increase in testing is because more people qualify for testing – when the coronavirus outbreak started in March, patients needed to have qualifying symptoms and a referral. That's no longer the case.

Ohio State also stepped up their testing once their in-house lab was able to process the tests, Bachman says. Now the university's lab is approaching almost 100,000 tests processed, which represents about 10% of all tests in Ohio.

As more people line up in their cars for testing around the city, there's concern that the demand may outpace testing supplies.

“I have not heard there’s a shortage of tests through the state, and I have not heard that we would move to limit testing,” says Tiffany Kraus, assistant health commissioner at Columbus Public Health. “There are some shortages at times of the reagent that processes the tests, but not the actual test itself.”

An Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman confirms there is no looming shortage of supplies.

“The state has been proactive in terms of purchasing equipment, testing kits, and reagent, so we feel like we are well-positioned at this point,” wrote Melanie Amato in an emailed statement. “But we know that supply chains have continued to be tight, and with the recent surge in testing demand, they have impacted some testing availability at private sites.”

Columbus has a goal of conducting 2,500 tests per day, according to the public health department. But so far, the city is falling short of that.