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Celeste, Taft Tapped To Maximize COVID-19 Testing

Office of Gov. Mike DeWine
Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton.

Two former Ohio governors are joining forces to help ramp up the state's ability to test for COVID-19. Gov. Mike DeWine says the bipartisan duo of Dick Celeste (D-Ohio) and Bob Taft (R-Ohio) can maximize testing capability in Ohio.

Celeste and Taft will put together the COVID-19 Testing Strike Team at the request of DeWine.

DeWine touted their experience with statewide and international issues. Taft went on many international trade trips during his terms (1999-2007) and Celeste (1983-1991) is the former ambassador to India.

"These two leaders have a depth of experience in Ohio and internationally, they know their way around Ohio, they know their way around the world," says DeWine, adding that this is a team that knows how to "get things done."

Their job is to find a way to increase and maximize COVID-19 testing in Ohio. A recent report puts Ohio at 47th among all states in testing per capita.

The announcement comes a day after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan secured half a million coronavirus tests in a deal with South Korea.

Ohio conducted COVID-19 tests of every inmate and staff member in three correctional institutions to track and isolate cases of coronavirus. Those tests found that many prisoners had the virus but didn't exhibit any symptoms.

DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health director, were asked during Tuesday's briefing if the state had plans to conduct such widespread tests at another form of congregational facilities: nursing homes.

Acton says she wishes the state could but says it's not possible due to the low amount of tests and the high amount of nursing home residents.

Instead, she says local hospitals are charged with forming relationships with those facilities and testing enough people to get a good sample size.

"We see a few cases in a nursing home, we test as many as we can. We test some staff and then we say 'it's there' and treat it as such, you almost have to treat it as if everyone has it," says Acton.

DeWine says more testing is the goal and to ramp up the amount of tests if they do discover a flare up at a nursing home facility.

DeWine also announced on Tuesday that the FDA approved a new version of reagent for testing machines used by most major COVID-19 testing labs in Ohio.

"This approval will greatly expand our state’s ability to increase our testing capacity," says DeWine. "We are also working with other companies to make additional reagent kits available so we can continue to ramp up testing in Ohio."

DeWine has said most hospitals in the state have the capacity for more testing and that reagent was the only missing component.

After technical difficulties during Monday's briefing, DeWine gave Ursel McElroy another opportunity to speak. The director of the Department of Aging spoke about her office's efforts to help communities of color in the state during this pandemic. Early indications show blacks and Hispanics are disproportionally affected by COVID-19.

"Like most things we've dealt with during this crisis, it is connected to so many other things," McElroy said. She will join Alisha Nelson, the director of RecoveryOhio, to co-chair the minority health strike force team, which will examine such issues as the underlying health conditions and social determinants of health, as well as expressions of hate and discrimination tied to the crisis.

"Tangible steps will be put in place—education, stronger data collection and recommended policy creation or changes that are needed," McElroy said.

And looking ahead to fair season, DeWine also announced the Ohio Department of Agriculture is waiving the requirement that agricultural societies must put up matching funds in order to receive $50,000 facilities grants. Fair managers have until May 30 to apply via theOhio Department of Agriculture's website.

DeWine also noted how the first round of checks from the $1.6 billion in dividends recently approved by the Ohio Board of Workers Compensation are in the mail. The dividends are being sent back to Ohio employers to ease the impact of the virus on Ohio's business community and the economy.  

Approximately $1.4 billion will go to private employers and nearly $200 million will go to local government taxing districts, such as counties, cities, townships and schools, DeWine said.

"A totally of 170,000 checks will be mailed over the next five days," he added. "So business owners, make sure that you get your mail."

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