Nearly 900 Athens residents were able to get a COVID-19 test at pop-up testing sites near the city, but city officials are questioning the effectiveness of the testing as a sustainable method for combating the virus.
Pop-up testing for COVID-19 occurred at Athens High School on Aug. 7 and Aug. 14 as a response from the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio National Guard to a request made by the Athens City-County Health Department for those testing sites.
On Aug. 7, 514 people were tested at Athens High School. An additional 351 people were tested at AHS on Aug. 14. Only five people tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Health Department, with only two people testing positive who lived in Athens County.
There are no more pop-up testing sites officially scheduled through the Ohio National Guard in Athens, but Athens Mayor Steve Patterson has stayed in contact with Athens health officials and the governor’s office regarding the possibility of future testing.
He said it would be good to do more pop-up testing but thinks it would be appropriate to do it around the Sept. 28 time frame when Ohio University rolls into Phase Two.
However, he has questioned the effectiveness of sporadic pop-up testing, but he also thinks the cost of the frequent, continuous testing necessary to effectively track COVID-19 cases would be too much of a financial strain.
“While it would be great to have pop-up testing, the real issue is that you would have to do pop-up testing almost weekly because you just don’t know when someone is going to test positive, and the expense behind that would be astronomical,” Patterson said.
Though pop-up testing may not be effective in the long term, but as a public health safety measure, Athens County felt as though it needed to have some pop-up testing sites to allow more people to get tested for free, even if they were asymptomatic.
“Most of the testing options in Athens County are for people who have symptoms related to COVID-19. The pop-up drive-thru allowed people who were COVID-curious to be tested without symptoms and without cost,” Ruth Dudding, director of community health and engagement at the health department, said.
Even though as of June 2020, Ohio now allows people without COVID-19 or in medical need to get tested, many providers of those tests — including OhioHealth — only test people who show symptoms of the virus because of the low supply of tests in the U.S. If a person shows symptoms, however, they may have the ability to get a free test at many different sites because of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed and signed into law in March.
These tests have helped schools in Athens with their decisions to stay online or go back in-person. Because of the extreme deficit in data and testing, even small testing events can help districts, such as Athens City School District, make more informed decisions about whether or not to open their schools back up for in-person teaching.
“We have to make our decisions off of data. Due to the lack of data, it is hard to make informed decisions,” Chad Springer, principal of Athens High School, said. “(With data) the superintendents are able to inform the boards of education of what is going on locally and what this predicts or represents, and then the boards can make more informed decisions.”
In addition to providing information for organizations such as schools, these tests can also provide information to individuals who may be worried about having contracted the virus.
“I tested negative, and that made me feel a lot better because even though I haven’t been around a bunch of people lately, I do work in retail, and someone that I worked with had it, so I took the precaution to get tested just to be safe,” Zoë Burr, a junior studying health and physical education, said.
Even though these tests can reassure individuals, it is still important that even if a person has tested negative, they continue to adhere to the governor’s COVID-19 health guidelines.
“I just want to be clear that even though out of the 800-some people, only five tested positive, we still cannot let our guard down,” Patterson said.
Public health officials continue to stress to the public to follow the orders made by the governor regarding COVID-19, as testing may come in the future, but there are other effective ways of combating the virus that people can and should continue to do daily.
“We could have more testing in the future, but the public health measures that increase safety in the county are wearing a facial covering in public, keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from others, avoiding large gatherings and cleaning high touch surfaces,” Dudding said.