In December, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine mobilized the state's National Guard to assist healthcare systems overwhelmed by COVID-19 needs, also promising to launch several Guard-assisted COVID testing sites.
Now, Guard members are in Cincinnati doing just that.
UC Health has just opened a temporary drive-through COVID-19 testing center at its Clifton campus to help alleviate test shortages as the virus continues to spread throughout the region and the state. The center is operated by UC Health clinicians and employees, with 10 members of the Ohio National Guard offering support.
"UC Health has been committed to serving our community throughout this pandemic, and we are proud to partner with the Ohio National Guard to meet this urgent need during the present surge of COVID-19 infections," Dr. Dustin J. Calhoun, medical director of emergency management for UC Health and associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says in a Jan. 11 release.
The testing center, located at 321 Albert Sabin Way, is one of nine new or expanded COVID-19 testing sites throughout Ohio that are supported by the Ohio National Guard. Testing centers in Columbus, Akron and Cleveland — which is experiencing a significant surge in COVID-19 cases — have already opened.
"The locations, which are intended to divert testing traffic from hospital emergency rooms, come as the state is experiencing the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations during the pandemic. Today, the Ohio Hospital Association reported a record-setting 6,177 inpatient hospitalizations," a Jan. 3 release from DeWine reads.
Appointments are required for UC Health's drive-through testing center, which is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, and Wednesday, Jan. 12. The center then will hold regular hours 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends.
The center uses PCR tests, which have nearly 100% accuracy, experts have said. Results are available in 48-72 hours.
Tests are offered at no charge, but patients should bring their health insurance card.
The testing center is temporary, but UC Health also offers COVID-19 testing and vaccinations through its clinical offices. In addition, tests are available at a number of other healthcare systems, as well as from local governments, schools, retailers, pharmacies and more.
Cincinnati health experts and local leaders have stressed the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, masking, physically distancing and testing to stay safer during the pandemic and reduce virus spread, as these methods were effective in helping to "flatten the curve" in 2020.
"Expanded access to COVID-19 testing is one way to address the present surge in COVID-19 within our community, but obtaining vaccination against COVID-19 is the best way to bring this pandemic to an end," Calhoun said. "We continue to urge members of the public to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 by becoming fully vaccinated and wearing a mask in public settings."
At-home COVID-19 tests, in particular, have been in demand and somewhat scarce during the winter as people have been gathering indoors for holidays. Hamilton County provides free COVID-19 vaccinations and at-home testing kits, and though the kits recently ran out, officials have said that more are on the way.
On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that citizens with private insurance can get up to eight free, over-the-counter tests per month beginning Jan. 15.
COVID-19 cases in the Cincinnati region — largely of the fast-spreading Omicron variant — continue to increase in January after Christmas and New Year's gatherings, with Hamilton County's active COVID-19 cases nearly doubling from 11,700 to 20,141 in a week's time, according to Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman on Jan. 5.
"We are certainly at a time when we are seeing more cases than ever," Kesterman said.
Also on Jan. 5, Dr. Richard Lofgren, UC Health's president and CEO, said that Greater Cincinnati hospitals are strained by a virus that continues to change.
"This pandemic is not over," Lofgren said, echoing what he had told the commissioners in December. "In fact, it's heating up more and more intense than it ever has been in the entire almost two years that we've been wrestling with this. And I'm the first to tell you that all of us, we're tired of it."
Lofgren said that the contagiousness of the Omicron variant, which has largely taken over as the dominant variant within the United States, is "just stunning." He said that Omicron is not causing "quite the intensity of the disease" as the recent Delta variant had, but it spreads much more quickly within communities.
"It truly doubles the number of cases every two to three days," Lofgren said. "It's a math problem. And though a smaller number of people require hospitalization, a small number on a large number is a very large number of individuals. We are in the process of overwhelming our healthcare systems."
In 2021, UC Health operated a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination center, administering more than 100,000 doses.
Make an appointment or learn more about UC Health's new drive-through COVID-19 testing center and other coronavirus resources.
Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the latest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.