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How do health officials decide where to put COVID-19 testing sites?

Popup COVID-19 test site in Walnut Hills.jpg
Posted at 4:52 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 21:58:14-04

CINCINNATI — The concept of a “pop-up” COVID-19 test site might sound spontaneous, but local health experts are using strategy, skill and data to determine the best places to reach the most people during this recent spike in cases.

“We see ourselves at a state of emergency as it relates to the increased number of positive cases,” said Center for Closing the Health Gap CEO Renee Mahaffey Harris. “As well as the urgency of making sure people get tested.”

She said her organization, working alongside health commissioners from both Cincinnati and Hamilton County and other local health organizations, is analyzing data to determine the best places to set up pop-up testing sites. They’re all using positive test numbers from the city, county and state as well as hospitalization rates.

“Looking at that collective data set to ensure that the sites that are being popped up are in areas where we see those numbers rise,” Mahaffey Harris said. “We all have a lot on our plate but if we all do a little piece, we can address the urgency of testing.”

All of this takes a ton of collaboration, so health officials said they are also reaching out to schools and businesses for cooperation.

“Who can I contact that has a location at that site that we’re seeing that’s 'getting darker,' and the number of cases, and who can we contact to see if they’re willing to allow us to use the parking lot?” Mahaffey Harris said.

“Getting darker” refers to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s assessment Thursday that Hamilton County is on the watchlist for going purple, or the highest level, of the Ohio Department of Health’s four-tier COVID-19 alert system. Health officials have a similar color-mapping system to see the hot spots on a local level by zip code.

Mahaffey Harris said another factor they look at when choosing a site is accessibility for those who may not have access to transportation.

“It’s important to have testing sites that have both features, drive-up and walk-up, so that the barrier of transportation is not why you don’t get tested,” she said. “So every site is a drive-up and walk-up site.”

The rising cases in Cincinnati and Hamilton County are all the more reason for testing sites to be planned for the areas that need them most. Harris said it could be the key to containing the coronavirus.

“That, as you learn your results, it’s know your status and then stop the spread,” she said.

Mahaffey Harris said the city and county are looking 30 to 60 days ahead as they plan out more pop-up testing sites.

For a list of all COVID-19 testing sites in Hamilton County, click here.