CANTON Drive-thru COVID-19 testing is scheduled for June 1 at the downtown campus of McKinley Senior High School.


Genesis Reference Laboratories, a private lab headquartered in Orlando, Fla., is providing the tests from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. People are asked to bring a photo ID and health insurance card.


It will be the first drive-thru testing offered in Canton.


What to expect


Michele Washington, the lab's regional manager, said insurance providers should cover the cost of a COVID-19 test, and partners onsite can help people register for insurance. A respiratory pathogen panel — billed to insurance with potential cost to the patient — also will be available to test for influenza and other viruses.


"We're trying to make a difference," she said.



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Lab staff are working with epidemiologists, pharmacists, physicians, nurses and volunteers. Washington said tests, which involve a nasal swab, will be documented and reported to local and state health officials as required.


Gerald Jackson, a retail pharmacist who is helping coordinate the event, said tests will be conducted "first come, first served." Each person will receive a "focused" telehealth assessment beforehand, which won't involve extensive medical history.


"But we are going to ask you all the necessary questions before we even think about giving you a COVID-19 test," he said.


State guidelines


Ohio Department of Health guidelines — updated May 4 — places people in five groups based on their testing priority. The first priority is hospitalized patients and health care personnel with symptoms.


The second priority includes:



Residents and staff of long-term care and congregate living facilities with symptoms
Residents and staff without symptoms who have known exposure to COVID-19 where there's been an outbreak
Symptomatic patients who are 65 or older
Symptomatic patients with underlying conditions, with consideration for racial and ethnic minorities with underlying illness who are at increased risk and for COVID-19 and more severe illness
First responders, public health workers and critical infrastructure workers with symptoms
People designated by public health authorities to evaluate community outbreaks

The third priority includes people receiving medical procedures, whether or not they have symptoms. The fourth priority is people whose tests might decrease community spread, and the last priority is asymptomatic people who do not meet any other criteria.


Local concerns


At the monthly Canton City Public Health board meeting Monday, members posed questions and concerns about the recently announced event.


“I don’t think it’s a great idea,” said Patrick Wyatt, who mentioned the possibility of people coming from outside Canton.


Health Commissioner James Adams said the event does not need the local health agency’s permission, but he contacted organizers for additional information.


He told the board that drive-thru testing is a “poor use of resources” and not recommended.


“I think it’s well-intentioned but just not well-informed,” Adams said.


He later elaborated about challenges with drive-thru testing, saying other events have not adequately connected people with follow-up care. Some test results were reported to take up to 10 days.


"So we just don't think that testing outside the context of the clinical care has a lot of value at this time,“ Adams said.


Even as Ohio begins to reopen and increase testing, he noted, most nursing homes have not implemented widespread testing. Long-term care facilities, which house a vulnerable population, account for about one-third of COVID-19 cases since April 15.


Earlier this week, Gov. Mike DeWine announced plans to have the Ohio National Guard assist nursing homes with testing.


Saving lives


Washington said she spoke with local officials and offered the lab’s services to Canton-area hospitals as early as March — when tests and priorities were more limited.


"We've reached out to nursing homes, but at this point, they have not asked to secure our services," added Jackson, who is not employed by Genesis Reference Laboratories.


They said they’ve worked with the city of East Cleveland to conduct similar drive-thru testing.


Washington, who also talked with state Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, said the representative was determined to bring testing to his constituents.


"I believe that as the state is opening up and as our city is opening up, people need to know if they're ill," West said.


That information might influence a person’s decision to isolate or seek treatment. He said a test result also reduces fears and anxiety, which can affect a person’s health.


"If people have symptoms, then they should come and get tested," he said.


Jackson also cited the mental toll of having COVID-19 symptoms without access to testing. He said the drive-thru event is open to any of the state’s five priority groups “for a reason.”


With documented disparities in the frequency and effects of COVID-19 for black Ohioans, Jackson said, the time to increase test access is now.


"We have the resources,” he said. “If someone would like to utilize those resources in another area, we would love to have that discussion.”


On Thursday, state officials announced recommendations by the Minority Health Strike Force. It was created in April because African Americans comprise 14% of Ohio’s population but account for 26% of COVID-19 cases, 31% of hospitalizations and 17% of deaths related to the disease.


The group’s recommendation to expand testing for minorities and high-risk populations resulted in a partnership with the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, which represents 55 federally-qualified health centers in 378 locations.


Jackson said the common motivator in all testing is to identify people with COVID-19 — as was done in East Cleveland.


"Lives are being potentially saved," he said.


Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or kelly.byer@cantonrep.com


On Twitter: @kbyerREP