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COVID-19 testing supply remains scarce amid surging demand

Covid testing
Posted at 5:47 PM, Dec 20, 2021

CLEVELAND — At-home COVID-19 tests and appointments to receive one have become hot commodities this holiday season as the supply of free testing kits available at local libraries and county boards of health have been depleted within hours of arriving.

A recent shipment of free testing kits at Cleveland Public Library was exhausted over the weekend. Although CPL received another shipment of 2200 testing kits late Monday afternoon, officials expected supply to dwindle quickly.

“Those will run out in a day or two. We have been going through about 1000 [kits] per day. I don’t expect that supply to last too long,” said Stephen Wohl, the lending and circulation manager for CPL. “We’ve been flooded with phone calls. We’re here to answer them and respond to you. We apologize for any frustration for running out of supply or that we don’t have any available. It’s not for a lack of trying on our part or the Ohio Department of Health’s part.”

Monday evening, the library said it had given out nearly all its tests in one four-hour period, the most it had ever given out in a single day. Fewer than 200 tests remained, and although the library said it requested additional tests from the Ohio Department of Health, it's not clear how quickly that shipment will arrive, especially given delays during the holidays.

On Monday morning, searches on the websites of major pharmacies in Northeast Ohio also revealed a shortage of available options for people needing an appointment. Both CVS and Walgreens listed no appointments available for the next four days, regardless of whether it’s for either a PCR or rapid result test.

For much of the year, the Ohio Department of Health has distributed hundreds of thousands of COVID tests through local library systems, including Cleveland Public Library and Cuyahoga County Public Library branches. Officials from both library systems said the program has been seamless since the beginning. However, the surge in demand coinciding with the beginning of school has only intensified. Wohl said about 13,000 of the 14,000 testing kits that CPL has distributed have come since September.

“As we got into September, that’s when all the other public libraries in the state really started to getting squeezed and demand started to increase. At that point, they started going from shipping a box or two to shipping entire pallets,” Wohl said. “It’s taking a little longer to fill those requests because instead of two hundred tests, we’re requesting 6000 at a time.”

The pinch is being felt in Summit County as well. The Summit County Board of Health received a shipment of 5000 testing kits late last week. By Monday morning, all of the tests had been distributed, despite a change in the maximum number of kits allowed for one person.

“The demand has been very, very high. We have had to limit the numbers that we can hand out per household, per person. We have had so much demand for the test kits,” said Donna Skoda, the health commissioner for Summit County. “I think individuals are taking it seriously to test before they get together and/or they have symptoms. We’re hoping that it is not an indication of that much disease. But I can tell you the numbers would say otherwise. We have a ton of cases right now.”

Skoda emphasized that people should not go to the emergency room if they need a test before traveling. Hospitals in both Summit and Cuyahoga counties are under tremendous strain while concurrently dealing with staff shortages. Additionally, Skoda said a symptomatic person should follow up with a PCR test if an at-home antigen comes back negative.

At-home COVID tests will be available at 11 branches of the Cuyahoga County Public Library system on a first-come, first-served basis. However, as of Monday evening, all of CCPL’s supply had been exhausted. Hallie Rich said the library system has already placed another order for additional tests. She expects the order to arrive at some point before Christmas.

“We place regular orders for more tests and we rely on the availability of kits coming in from the state in order to have them at our branches and to distribute them out into the public,” Rich said. “It has worked incredibly well. It has made it convenient. Public libraries are in convenient locations all throughout the state. We are very fortunate that in the state of Ohio we have strong public support for libraries. We’ve been so pleased to be able to provide this service to the community. Libraries are fundamentally about information access and during the pandemic, there is perhaps no more urgent or important information needed than information connected to public health.”