COLUMBUS, Ohio — A partnership between the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance and a Cleveland-area dental lab will boost Ohio’s coronavirus testing capacity by tens of thousands per day, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced in his Friday news conference.
“We now really have the ability to go on the offensive against this enemy,” DeWine said. “That means we are going to track it down, we’re going to isolate it, and we’re going to go after it.”
Roe Dental Laboratory, which normally manufactures crowns and dentures, will bring nearly 100 employees back to work to produce a new, sorely needed product: Nasopharyngeal swabs, a crucial component in COVID-19 testing.
On Friday, according to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, the state of Ohio was testing about 3,728 people for COVID-19 each day. DeWine said Roe’s contribution will more than triple that capacity by May 6 and allow the state to perform 22,000 daily tests by the end of May.
The establishment of a stable testing supply chain will be key to relaxing some of the restrictions on public life in Ohio beginning May 1, DeWine added. With more tests available, the virus will become easier to trace and contain; the state’s most vulnerable communities, including seniors in assisted living, will have more information about their own health and the health of those around them.
And local health departments will be able to pursue extensive contact tracing when new COVID-19 cases occur.
“This is an aggressive strategy, but I think it fits Ohio and I think it fits our attitude of how we deal with problems,” DeWine said.
Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director at the Ohio Department of Health, stood in for ODH director Amy Acton to explain how contact tracing will work when some Ohioans return to their jobs and other daily tasks outside their homes:
- People who show COVID-19 symptoms will visit their doctors and, if appropriate, receive a test.
- If the test is positive, the doctor will conduct a remote interview about the patient’s recent social contact.
- “Close contacts” — those with whom the patient interacted in close physical proximity without protection — will be contacted, interviewed and told to quarantine for 14 days.
About 1,750 health workers will dedicate themselves to contact tracing, which Hurst and DeWine said will enable the state to quickly identify and tamp down on new potential “hotspots” before they become significant outbreaks.
No interviewee will be required to provide information, but Hurst said only a handful of people had declined to answer health officials’ questions since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I think most people, they want to protect themselves, but they want to protect their families, their friends, their loved ones in the community,” he said.
No new tool, however — not testing, not contact tracing — undoes the need for Ohioans to continue wearing masks, washing their hands and interacting at a safe distance of at least six feet, Husted said.
“You put these all together and Ohio has a winning strategy,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to just wait this out. It’s not going to go away. It’s going to be there in our world for a long time in 2020, and we need to learn to live our lives with it. We need to be wary of it, but we can’t be in fear of it.”
He, DeWine and Acton plan to announce the details of their reopening strategy, including which types of businesses will be first in line to resume operation in May, on Monday.
No business, however, will be able to return wtihout robust, proven safeguards for its workers, Husted said.
“There is nothing that will be coming that we haven’t seen work on the ground in Ohio,” he said.