As economy reopens, Ohio falls short on coronavirus testing

By: - May 5, 2020 1:00 am

Dr. Amy Acton addresses reporters at a news conference in 2020. Capital Journal photo by Jake Zuckerman.

Despite what Gov. Mike DeWine describes as capacity increases, the raw number of Ohioans being tested for COVID-19 per day has failed to ascend to scale to bring the scope of Ohio’s outbreak into full view.

State data shows less than 5,000 Ohioans per day on average in the last week have been tested for the presence of the new coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes. This means tests for about 42 of every 100,000 people.

Ohio ranked 43rd among states when analyzed by tests conducted per capita, according to a mid-April USA Today report.

While Ohio’s testing numbers have increased since late March when the state began posting them publicly, researchers from the Harvard Global Health Institute determined about 500,000 to 600,000 Americans per day would need to be tested to safely reopen the economy.

This comes out to roughly 152 tests per 100,000 people.

“We tend to do about 41 tests per 100,000 in population” Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said on Monday at a briefing. “Our ultimate goal in an ideal world would be 150 tests per 100,000 in population.”

In Ohio, more than 13% of those tested have confirmed cases.

However, this rate is based on undercounted confirmed case data, limited by testing shortages and narrow testing guidelines.

“If you have a very high positive rate, it means that there are probably a good number of people out there who have the disease who you haven’t tested,” said Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, to The New York Times. “You want to drive the positive rate down, because the fundamental element of keeping our economy open is making sure you’re identifying as many infected people as possible and isolating them.”

The testing shortages continue as Ohio plods its way toward lifting certain public health orders closing businesses and keeping citizens at home. 

Increased capacity, broader testing guidelines

In late April, DeWine announced wrangling by a task force he created spawned agreements with the private sector that would increase Ohio’s testing capacity to 7,200 tests per day by April 29.

It’s slated to increase from there to 15,000 by May 6; 18,800 by May 13; and 22,000 by May 27.

In an email, a DeWine spokesman said “the increase is a capacity increase” — not necessarily a raw testing increase.

On Monday, DeWine and Acton unveiled new, expanded guidelines for health professionals to determine who should be ordered a test and who should not.

The new guidelines increase prioritization for testing for patients who are moderately ill, as well as people in congregate living areas like nursing homes or prisons, which have been hit especially hard.

“We now have a very aggressive testing program, DeWine said. “We are able to test what will be in about a week up to about 22,000 per day.”

Acton said the increased capacity and broadened guidelines will offer better lines of sight into how many people are infected with the coronavirus but only became “moderately ill.”

As of Monday, more than 20,000 Ohioans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the disease was detected in the state March 9. More than 3,800 Ohioans have been hospitalized from the disease. At least 1,056 have died. 

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.