Libraries across Ohio to distribute at-home COVID-19 test kits
If a new program takes shape as promised, Ohio residents soon will be able to stop into their local library and pick up their books as well as a free rapid COVID-19 test kit they can use at home.
The program was unveiled during an Ohio Department of Health webinar Wednesday to provide details to Ohio's 251 public library systems.
"This is literally a brand-new program," said Michelle Francis, executive director of the Ohio Library Council. "The governor's testing team called us to say they had purchased about 2 million of the Abbott rapid at-home test kits and were making them available to health departments and sheriff's offices.
"They know that libraries are able to reach hard-to-reach populations and are trusted," Francis said.
As of noon Friday, 60 library systems had requested the tests. Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Delaware County District Library reach are looking into the program, said Ben Zenitsky, library spokesman.
Alicia Shoults, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said that the cost to the state was $50 million in COVID-19 relief funds. Other details, such as the timeline to distribute the kits, are being worked out.
Beth Hatch, director of the Upper Arlington Public Library, which plans to reopen March 1 for limited services, said she will be thrilled to take part in the program.
"Anything we can do to support the community and provide them with tools is a good thing. I'm 100% for it," Hatch said.
The antigen test requires the user to insert a nasal swab into a nostril, add drops to it and close the kit. The user then calls a telemedicine number to discuss the results and upload them via a computer or phone app. Results, quarantining options in the event of a positive test, and other precautions are directed.
At least one library system in southwest Ohio has been providing tests already.
The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library teamed up with Hamilton County's health department in October to provide testing of mostly under-served communities in its system. This program is not connected to the state Department of Health initiative.
Among the first to take part in the health department program closer to Columbus is the Bucyrus Public Library in Crawford County. The library was given 200 test kits about a week ago and had distributed 64 as of Thursday.
"Our health department contacted us and asked if this was something that we'd be interested in doing, and we immediately jumped on board," said Stephanie Buchanan, library director. "It's our job to connect people to the resources and services that they need. Right now, this is huge."
Travelers, those visiting relatives and people returning to work and school are among those wanting to know if they have the virus, she said.
Initially, Buchanan said, some of her staff were wary, "concerned about people who were sick coming in for them." But Buchanan said the process is easy and quick as those picking up a test use a sterile pen to write their name and number of kits into a log.
"They pick up their kit from a table and away they go," she said. "It's very, very simple and it's free."
Buchanan was told the market value of each test kit is $25.
The U.S. has been criticized for insufficient testing sites and slow turnaround times since the year-long pandemic began. For many, testing has been restricted to doctor’s offices and other settings staffed by health workers.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced $230 million to ramp up production of a home test kit. The plan would include construction of a U.S. plant to manufacture and distribute them.
"We have three vaccines now," said Francis, of the Ohio Library Council. "But at the same time, because of the new variants that are arriving, testing is not going to stop."