Hamilton County has officially launched its effort to increase COVID-19 testing in the county.
The county commissioners awarded an $18 million contract to the Health Collaborative earlier this month and it's now beginning that work.
"This means 175,000 tests from now until the end of the year will be administered," said County Commission President Denise Driehaus during a press briefing Wednesday morning. "Testing is critical to the overall strategy to minimize the spread of the virus and keep our region open."
The Health Collaborative is partnering with several other health organizations for the "Test and Protect" program. Those include: University of Cincinnati Early Intervention Program, The Christ Hospital Health Network, Cincinnati Children's Anderson Center, Mercy Health, TriHealth and UC Health.
But the testing from the Health Collaborative will look a little different than the pop-up testing locations that have been taking place in the county and operated by the Ohio National Guard.
The county's program will be focused more on virus hotspots in the community and congregate settings like nursing homes, homeless shelters and some housing complexes.
"These partnerships that you just mentioned will work to combine the most advanced data analysis methods, and community focus approaches that will bring testing to the people that need it the most," said Brittany Punches, an assistant professor of nursing with the UC College of Nursing. "So, our team will be bringing boots on the ground, testing people who are over 65, frontline workers and vulnerable individuals who might live in those congregate settings that you mentioned, or have other medical or disabling conditions."
The testing effort will also work with businesses and organizations to protect staff and in turn, their clients, from COVID-19. This could include residential facilities, fire stations, public transportation, grocery stores or other places of employment.
County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said the idea is to focus testing on those who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
"We know that if we can quickly find out who has COVID-19 in a workplace, we can quickly isolate those individuals, and hopefully keep business going," Kesterman said. "Our goal is to not shut down the entire economy again, as the state of Ohio did early on in the pandemic. Our goal is to use more of a laser-precision and pull out the pieces when we know that there are individuals that are sick, and make sure that we can keep things going."
You can learn more about the testing program at healthcollab.org, or by calling 513-618-3656.
Meanwhile, Kesterman said for the fifth week in a row, COVID-19 metrics monitored by the county health department continue to trend down. That includes declines in the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations.
Since last Wednesday's press briefing, the county reported 404 new positive COVID-19 cases and 25 new hospitalizations.
Kesterman continued to point out that the number of new daily cases has been declining since a countywide indoor mask mandate was implemented by state officials in early July.