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Long turnaround times, low volume of available test kits hindering city testing

Posted at 2:03 PM, Mar 18, 2020

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati health commissioner Melba Moore addressed city council Wednesday, admitting that testing for COVID-19 in the city has been hindered by a low volume of available test kits and a turnaround time of eight to ten days for results.

She also explained to city council in great detail what the testing process looks like, as well as how the department has been determining who is tested.

Moore said the city has, so far, tested 11 individuals in Cincinnati, and are still awaiting results from six of those individuals. LabCorp, the company handling the testing, told Cincinnati Health Department officials the results should be back some time on Wednesday, but couldn't narrow it down to any specific time frame. Moore said her team would work until late in the evening, if necessary, to ensure those awaiting test results would hear back from them today, but she didn't clarify on when the rest of the city would be notified of the results.

Once an individual is tested by a clinic or health care provider, the swabs are submitted to either a state lab or a private testing facility. Moore said there are several points during the testing process that cause delays, like if the lab receiving the swab is operating on a reduced workforce or dealing with a surge of submitted tests to process.

"If the test is positive, it's uploaded, that information is uploaded into the Ohio Department of Health database," said Moore. "That information is processed and sent in to the local health department database. We receive it, we have it, and then we can start talking about and getting the messaging out."

There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in the city of Cincinnati, or in Hamilton County.

If the test comes back negative, Moore said the information is sent to the medical provider that ordered the test, to be put in the individual's medical record.

"What I want to draw your attention to is that there is no requirement for a private lab to report negative reports to the Cincinnati Health Department," said Moore. "What we're doing is adding another step to what we do, in reaching back so that we can get the negatives, because we want to close out those cases, because we know people really want to hear this information."

Moore said having to reach back out to testing facilities adds another delay to the process in letting the public know the results were negative, in addition to the eight to ten day turnaround period.

"Eight days is not sufficient, under no circumstances," said Moore.

City councilmember PG Sittenfeld specifically challenged the turnaround time, saying this long of a wait time shouldn't be normalized, since other Ohio cities have much shorter turnaround.

"The leading healthcare system in Ohio, I think, is at an eight-hour turnaround," said Sittenfeld. When he asked her if Cincinnati could have any hope for improving that number, Moore encouraged council to reach out to state government officials.

She added that local hospitals also want the ability to perform their own testing, but setting up the infrastructure for that takes time. She said much of the issue surrounding the delay stems from the fact that this is a national pandemic affecting such a broad area that's all pulling on the same resource pool.

When councilmember Greg Landsman asked Moore how many test kits were available, Moore said that earlier on in the week she could have told him she had access to approximately 60 tests. The number varies by health center, but she said her team is working to get their hands on as many as possible for the future. However, because of the low quantity of tests available, the Health Department has set down some tight qualifications an individual has to meet before they can be referred for testing.

irst and foremost, she said, people who feel they may have symptoms indicative of COVID-19 should call the Health Department at 513.357.7462. The department has eight people manning phones to speak with callers about their symptoms.

"If you have mild symptoms, like a low grade fever, you're not going to be tested," said Moore. "If you have moderate symptoms -- fever, coughing, shortness of breath and you have co-morbidities like diabetes, heart disease, then you will be tested. And we will walk them through the process of being tested."