COVID Test Demand High as Libraries Go Through Nearly 4,000 in an Hour

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – It took about 10 minutes for the Austintown branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County to fully distribute its share of 4,000 at-home COVID tests Monday morning.

About 100 people lined up at the branch at 600 S. Raccoon Road to receive their allotment of BinaxNow tests, which were limited to four per person. Test supplies at the Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring branches were all depleted soon after the branches opened at 9 a.m.

The Campbell, Poland, Struthers, Springfield and Tri-Lakes still had tests as of 10 a.m., although those sites are now out as well, said Maggie Henderson, the library’s strategic communications officer.

The library, in partnership with Mahoning County Public Health, distributed 4,000 tests at the nine locations. This gave residents another option to secure the hotly sought after tests. Distributions over the last two weeks leading up to the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays drew hundreds.

Those receiving those tests did not need a library card or be Mahoning County residents to receive the tests. 

As of Sunday, the Ohio Department of Health has 1,619,431 confirmed cases of COVID and 29,447 Ohio resident deaths. In Mahoning County, there are 42,299 cases and 875 deaths.

“We distributed them in accordance with their service areas, which includes some of our further out locations like Tri-Lakes [North Jackson] and Sebring,” she said. “That was in accordance with their requests.”

Normally, the libraries receive weekly shipments of about 1,000 from the Ohio Department of Health, through a partnership with the Ohio Library Council. “We can expect that to continue indefinitely,” Henderson said. 

Library Director and CEO Aimee Fifarek said Youngstown received its own allotment of COVID tests. 

The phone lines at the library have been intermittently down since last Thursday. She hopes the library’s vendors can resolve the problem soon. For the last few months, the protocol to reserve a COVID test is to call 330 744 8636.

“We set them aside for you and bring them out for curbside service,” she said. “That way we don’t have to ask any questions about whether you’re symptomatic, COVID positive or anything like that. We keep you safe. We keep us safe.

“We will be getting more tests in the future. I just don’t know when.”

The tests distributed last year had a telehealth component and shouldn’t be opened until the recipient was online with a proctor. The ones distributed Monday and going forward are at-home tests – done without help of a third party. Fifarek adds there might be some of the telehealth ones received by the library system as well. 

She notes that residents want to contact their travel agencies, workplaces and other places of interest to find out if these COVID test kits are useful to them.

“If you still have questions or symptoms, you should always work with your personal doctor to get a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] or other high-level test to be certain,” Fifarek said. “We don’t want to be involved at all with anybody’s health information. That is private information that should be between them, their health care provider and the health department.”

In addition to the testing, the libraries are mandating health protocols within its buildings. Starting Tuesday, all programming and meeting room reservations are canceled until further notice, Fifarek said.  

“We have decided to go back for the next month to a mask mandate within the library,” she said. “Omicron is spiking significantly in our area. We want to keep the doors open, and keep both staff and patrons safe.

“What we’re hearing out of South Africa is that omicron starts to level off after a month. So we’re hoping at the end of January we can go back to business as usual.”

Fifarek said there are hand sanitizer stations at multiple places inside its branches. With the first round of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money given to the local library system, it was able to obtain ionizers for every building – removing unwanted virus and allergen particles, she said. 

“We do regular cleaning with our maintenance staff, whom we employ as well as cleaning services,” Fifarek said. “We do our best to keep everything as clean and safe as possible, pandemic or not.”

Pictured: Residents line up at the Austintown branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County to receive BinaxNow at-home COVID tests.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.