Ohio has faced two major problems when it comes to COVID-19 testing, Gov. Mike DeWine said: A lack of the testing reagent, and a shortage of testing swabs.
"Reagent has been referred to as the secret sauce to tell if a sample has COVID-19 or not," DeWine said April 24 during a press conference at the Ohio Department of Public Safety on COVID-19 and the state's response.
Earlier this week, DeWine announced the FDA’s approval of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s reagent, which are chemicals used in coronavirus testing kits. The strike team led by former Ohio Govs. Dick Celeste and Bob Taft had a major breakthrough working with Thermo Fisher, DeWine said, and he talked directly with Thermo Fisher CEO Marc Casper. The state of Ohio now has a partnership with Thermo Fisher and its 1,500 employees working in Ohio to produce the reagent.
An Ohio manufacturer of dental restorations will help address the shortage of swabs, DeWine said.
ROE Dental Laboratory has secured the specifications to manufacture swabs from Formlabs, a 3-D printing company in Toledo that was the original production partner of The Ohio State University and Battelle for swabs. Given the significant demand, more swabs are needed.
The Ohio Manufacturers' Association has partnered with ROE Dental Laboratory, which will bring about 100 employees back to work to produce swabs around the clock, while practicing safe social distancing, DeWine said.
The current average number of tests conducted a day is 3,728, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.
Beginning April 29, the state's capacity to test will be 7,200 tests a day. By May 27, that capacity will be at 22,000 tests per day, DeWine said.
Increased capacity will allow the state to do more testing in nursing homes and other congregant living settings, including homeless shelters and treatment centers, DeWine said. The state also will be able to do more testing in hot spots, as well as with food and grocery workers and those in essential manufacturing facilities.
The increased testing capacity will enable Ohio to go on the offensive by conducting contact tracing, DeWine said.
"Contact exposure tracing is one of the strongest weapons we can employ to help our families, our friends and ourselves stay healthy," DeWine said.
This will be done in a voluntary way that will help us take control of the disease, he said.
"By stopping the spread, we are protecting others, we are protecting ourselves," DeWine said. "Contact tracing is one tool. It works along with our other efforts. It does not replace anything, but it's another thing, another tool in our toolkit, to go along with social distancing, to go along with washing our hands, to go along with in public wearing a mask. These are all things that are very important, and today we have an additional tool."
Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department Health, explained how contact tracing works.
If you develop symptoms, contact your health care provider, Hurst said. If your health care provider asks that you be tested for COVID-19, you should begin to wear a mask, isolate and separate from your family. Stay isolated until it has been seven days since you had symptoms, or you've had no fever or symptoms for 72 hours.
If the COVID-19 test result is positive, a health care worker will reach out to you to begin contact tracing, Hurst said. The health care worker will ask about who you came in contact with in the 48 hours before you were sick because the virus can spread before you become ill. Anyone who was in contact with you in those 48 hours is at risk for having the coronavirus.
The health care worker would then reach out to your close contacts from that period of time and be asked to self-isolate for 14 days, Hurst said. During that time, your close contacts would need to check their symptoms and temperature; if they develop symptoms, they should contact their health care provider, and the process may repeat.
This general procedure has been done for decades with many infectious diseases, Hurst said. While it's not a new process, what's new is the volume of cases we have.
The process is voluntary, but it's another tool in our toolkit to help protect our friends, family and community, Hurst said.
About 1,750 contact tracers will work out of local health departments across the state of Ohio. Hundreds of volunteers are currently working as contact tracers, Hurst said, including medical students whose schools closed due to the pandemic.
Other announcements from DeWine during the press conference:
- Over the next three months, more than 200 children will turn 18 and age out of foster care in Ohio. The state of Ohio will cover the cost of all of these individuals to stay in the foster care system until the pandemic ends.
- Individuals in the Bridges program, which is a foster care program for young adults up to age 21, will be allowed to stay in the system until the pandemic ends.
- 336 inmates were released April 21 from the state prison system. Over the past five weeks, Ohio's prison population has been reduced by 844 inmates. Social distancing is difficult in a prison setting, DeWine has said, so the state is taking steps to reduce the prison population.
- Tuesday, April 28, is Election Day. Ballots must be postmarked by Monday or can be dropped off at your local board of elections dropbox by 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
- The state will be laying out a schedule for reopening Ohio on April 27, with an emphasis on safety for workers.
Ohio has 15,169 total cases of COVID-19 and 690 deaths, the ODH reported April 24.
Because Ohio currently has the capacity to test only the sickest individuals and those working on the front lines of the pandemic, the total number of cases is certainly higher, state officials say.
The total number of individuals who have been tested in Ohio is 107,109.
The ODH reports 3,053 individuals have been hospitalized, and 920 have been admitted to the ICU due to the coronavirus.
The individuals who have tested positive range in age from less than 1 year old to 106 years old, with a median age of 51.
Cuyahoga County accounts for 1,817 of the cases, 498 hospitalizations and 91 deaths.
If you have questions regarding COVID-19, call 833-4ASKODH (833-427-5634) or visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.