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Photo: CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health; public domain.

COVID Update | Jan. 20, 2022

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As the number of COVID-19 cases reached historical highs in recent weeks, the availability of free and over-the-counter retail home rapid tests became increasingly scarce.

The federal government initiated two efforts in the past week to help get test kits into more homes.

One initiative is through the postal service. Residential households in the U.S. can now order one set of four free at-home tests to be delivered through the mail.

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Orders can be made online at special.usps.com/testkits, or through covidtests.gov, which has a link to the postal service website. The tests are not available through local post offices, and at this time can only be ordered online. NPR recently reported that a phone number will be available for individuals without computer access, but a number has yet to be released.

Orders will ship free of charge starting “in late January,” according to the postal service.

The second initiative involves a directive from President Biden requiring insurers to reimburse the purchase of over-the-counter tests. Individuals covered by insurance may obtain reimbursement for eight tests per month, according to a news release from the Health and Human Services Department last week. Families with multiple people on the same plan are eligible to receive eight tests per person per month. There is no limit for individuals whose health care provider has ordered a test.

“We are requiring insurers and group health plans to make tests free for millions of Americans,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xanier Becerra said in the news release. “This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost.”

In Ohio, an “unprecedented demand for testing” and “supply chain delays” are limiting other means of access to free kits, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

In a press conference streamed online Thursday, Jan. 13, Vanderhoff said the state has ordered 1.2 million tests this month, “but only a fraction of those tests have arrived.”

He said that, given the scarcity of free tests, the state is prioritizing Ohio’s K–12 schools and colleges and universities and “temporarily pausing” shipments to libraries, health departments and other community partners “until inventories and the supply chain have stabilized.”

“COVID-19 tests are essential to in-person learning,” he said of the decision to focus on providing schools with the available free kits.

In the meantime, positive cases are averaging more than 17,000 new cases a day, according to Vanderhoff, with total hospitalizations at over 6,000 across the state for the second week in a row.

The state reported 2,473 new COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week of Sunday, Jan. 9, through Saturday, Jan. 15, compared to 2,813 new admissions the week before.

Of those who are hospitalized, “there’s a widening gap between the [number of] vaccinated and unvaccinated,” Vanderhoff said, adding that more than 30% of Ohioans remain unvaccinated, making them more susceptible to catching the virus and having more severe symptoms.

• The daily numbers of new cases tallied during the week of Jan. 9–15, hit some artificial highs at the end of the week due to a backlog in reporting, according to a Jan. 14 press release from the ODH. The seven-day running average offers a more consistent snapshot of the current situation by averaging newly reported daily cases from seven days in a row. That average reached a new high on the 15th at 26,836, more than twice the seven-day average during the December/January surge a year ago.

• The number of COVID-related Ohio deaths during the week of Jan. 9–15 reached a new weekly high at 850, compared to 625 the week before.

• A frequently consulted measure is new case numbers per 100,000 residents, which represents a two-week average. The ODH reports its updated figures each Thursday, and the latest report from Jan. 13 shows a continuing increase to a 1,883.8 average compared to 1,818.8 the week before.

• Greene County also saw a further rise in its per-100,000 figures, with a two-week average of 1,453.2 as of Jan. 13, compared to 1,169.1 as of Jan. 6. Greene County’s latest figures put it at 65th among Ohio’s 88 counties. Erie County, in the northeast part of the state, was at the top for the second week in a row at 2,658, down from 2,869.4 reported Jan. 6. Twelve counties reported case averages of over 2,000 per 100,000 residents; and 74 surpassed 1,000. Holmes County had the lowest average for the fifth week in a row, with 536.9, compared to 418.6 the week before. An average of 100 or more cases per 100,000 is considered a “high” incidence rate.

• The total number of new cases in Greene County for the week of Jan. 9–15 was 2,704, twice as high as the week before at 1,406. The 45387 ZIP code accounted for 65 of the new cases this past week, compared to 45 the week before.

• New hospital admissions in Greene County totaled 20 for the week of Jan. 9–15, compared to 24 the week before. The reported number of deaths in the county last week was seven, compared to four the week before and seven the week before that.

• In Yellow Springs, the public schools reported 24 positive cases for the school week ending. Friday, Jan. 14, with 14 among middle/high school students, eight Mills Lawn students and two district staff. An additional 21 students and two staff were in quarantine, with 15 students from the middle/high school and six from Mills Lawn.
—Carol Simmons

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