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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Free COVID tests are now hard to come by at Ohio's libraries

A sign outside of the Gahanna branch pf the Columbus Metropolitan Library advises that no COVID-19 home testing kits are available.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A sign outside of the Gahanna branch pf the Columbus Metropolitan Library advises that no COVID-19 home testing kits are available.

It turns out one of the hottest items this holiday season isn't a Nintendo game or a Red Ryder bb gun. Rapid, free, at-home COVID tests that have been handed out at public libraries throughout Ohio are a sought-after commodity as COVID cases in the Buckeye State have spiked to record highs four times in the past week.

The Ohio Library Council's Michelle Francis says test kits are flying off library shelves if they even make it that far.

"This is something unlike anything we've seen before in this pandemic," Francis says.

 No COVID test signs at Powell, Ohio library
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
No COVID test signs at Powell, Ohio library

Francis says the demand has been so strong, and drive-through lines have been so long, at some libraries that librarians report it's been difficult to make it to work on time after getting caught in the traffic.

To put it in perspective, Francis says between March and September, Ohio libraries distributed just under 339,000 free COVID tests. Compare that with December when libraries handed out more than 583,000 tests in the first 23 days of the month. She says the need is particularly high in North and Northeast Ohio right now. She says for two weeks in a row, the Mentor Public Library in Lake County has distributed 1,100 tests within 90 minutes. She says when word got out that Cuyahoga Public Library had some tests, lines of cars began backing up so bad that police had to come in and help with traffic control. Francis says there's demand in more rural counties too. She says the Muskingum Public Library distributed 5,000 tests within 4 days.

Francis urges Ohioans seeking tests at libraries to "please, please, please be patient and be kind."

 Line at CVS Pharmacy, Powell, Ohio
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Line at CVS Pharmacy, Powell, Ohio

Test kits are also available, free of charge, from local health departments but like libraries, those agencies report not having nearly enough to meet the demand. And while test kits can be purchased at pharmacies for around $20 to $25, they are still somewhat hard to find and inaccessible for many low-income Ohioans who cannot afford them.

The line for COVID tests in Columbus
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
The line for COVID tests in Columbus

Ohioans who cannot find a test but think they might have COVID symptoms have some other options. They can contact their physicians as well as local drug stores to schedule PCR tests. Many urgent cares are also offering them. Those tests are largely regarded as being more accurate than rapid tests but it generally takes a couple of days to get the results.

The federal government is ramping up efforts to make 500 million rapid tests available nationwide next month, free of charge. But families and crowds are gathering right now, leading to recent spikes in COVID cases. Ohio set four new record highs for the number of cases during the past week.

Health officials say if you can't get tested and you think you might have COVID, it's important to isolate yourself away from others to avoid spreading it. And all Ohioans are urged to wear good quality masks and avoid crowds right now. Doctors say well-fitting N95 or KN95 masks are strongly preferred over the cloth ones but any mask is better than none at all. And everyone ages 5 and up is strongly advised to get COVID vaccines and booster shots to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious Omicron virus and lessen its severity if infection occurs.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.