As residents decide how to navigate life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local health department officials said testing is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.
Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena said, without a vaccine, “COVID-19 is a threat for months to come,” but testing is one of several steps that help keep the community healthy.
He said preventative measures include social distancing and wearing a mask, if able, when in congregate settings or groups of people. Orcena said these steps help those who may have COVID-19 but do not know it from spreading the virus to healthy people.
He said it is equally important to identify those who are sick and stop them from transmitting the virus.
“The only way to do this is through easily accessible testing and contact tracing,” Orcena said.
Union County Health Department Information Officer Jennifer Thrush said testing helps to “box in the disease.”
When officials can quickly identify the “center point” within a circle of those who are infected, she said “we can not allow it to get into the next ring of people.”
Orcena said before testing was widely available, a positive case linked to a business could lead to the entire workplace being closed down. Instead, he said testing allows the infected individual to be quickly identified and pulled out of the workplace without closing the business.
He said testing aids in breaking the transmission cycle and ensures COVID-19 “doesn’t spread beyond the most limited amount (of people) possible.”
Despite the importance of testing, he said there is a common misconception that more testing simply leads to a larger number of cases.
Orcena said, while more tests could be one of many factors that leads to more cases, it is important to look at a variety of available statistics.
“People get very focused on one measure and it’s a mistake to do that,” he said.
Beyond the number of COVID-19 cases, Orcena said community health is reflected by a deeper analysis that includes the positivity rate of tests, the rate of new cases and hospitalization and ICU beds occupied.
Judging the community’s health based only on the number of cases is akin to a doctor providing a diagnosis after only looking at an individual’s cholesterol, Orcena said.
He said the fear that increased testing will result in more positive cases “oversimplifies things.” Orcena said testing – and identifying those who are ill – as restrictions are relaxed helps prevent sweeping sector closings.
Drive-thru COVID-19 testing at the Union County Fairgrounds, 845 N. Main Street, is currently being provided by Lower Lights Christian Health Center in partnership with UCHD.
Thrush said anyone who is interested can register online at www.LLCHC.org/Covid19 or by calling (614) 274-1455 and selecting option 1. She said a doctor’s note is not needed for testing. It is free to those without insurance, while insurance is accepted.
After registering, Thrush said individuals will receive a call from Lower Lights staff within one business day to schedule a testing appointment.
Thrush said samples from the nasal swab are then sent to a private lab, and results are provided within two to five business days.
Orcena encouraged those who have symptoms of COVID-19 to start by contacting their physician, as larger healthcare systems will also provide testing to those who are ill.
Thrush and Orcena emphasized that those who are tested are not required to quarantine while waiting for test results.
The health commissioner said those who are symptomatic should take precautions like staying home or quarantining while waiting for their results. However, some individuals who do not have symptoms and are tested before traveling or undergoing a medical procedure may not need to quarantine.
“We can’t unilaterally say if you go in for a test, you’re in quarantine,” Orcena explained.
Anecdotally, Orcena said the demographic of those testing positive is shifting younger. The most recent UCHD data indicates those in the 20-39 age group currently have the highest number of cases in the county.
He said the reason for the shift is not entirely clear, but younger people are more mobile and may engage in riskier activities.
Many of the new cases are tied to social settings, like weddings, parties or other group gatherings, Orcena said.
Throughout the long weekend, Orcena reminded all community members to remember “the risk of transmission still remains” and to consider health precautions when planning for the holiday.
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