By 11:30 a.m. Saturday, the last of 805 COVID-19 self-test kits were almost gone at Five Points in Akron.
The West Exchange Street location had been chosen as one of four sites by Akron City Council for distribution of 3,220 tests, and as the allocation of 805 kits dwindled, Councilwoman Nancy Holland made some calls.
“I’m trying to get more tests,” she said. “We’re down to 75.”
Holland said cars began pulling up long before the 10 a.m. start as residents battered by a new wave of COVID-19 infections sought a rapid answer to whether or not they had contracted the coronavirus.
Summit Lake Community Center
At the Summit Lake Community Center on West Crosier Street, Council President Margo Sommerville helped pass out the tests, one to each person in the steady stream of vehicles.
Sommerville said council wanted to take an active role in battling COVID-19’s spread and decided to open four sites, choosing neighborhoods with low vaccination rates. She hoped the immediacy of taking a test would convince skeptical individuals to become vaccinated.
“We have seen with other distributions a lot of backup, so we wanted to do four locations,” she said.
Council didn’t get much of a cost break from the tests' supplier, purchasing the kits for $108,000, said Joan M. Williams, council chief of staff.
Sommerville said it’s been difficult for many residents to find tests, despite an effort by the Biden administration to increase availability.
“The vaccine — that’s the only thing — it’s really our best method to be able to preserve lives,” she said.
The council president said she’s seen the effect of COVID-19 firsthand in her family business, Sommerville Funeral Services, citing the high number of preventable deaths as especially troubling.
“It is preventable and the individuals don’t have to die,” she said. “That’s what’s sad, and that’s what breaks my heart.”
Sommerville said she’s hoping distribution of free tests quickly becomes more widespread.
“We’re hoping the federal government steps up so we make tests more available,” she said.
Kenmore-Garfield high school
Ward 9 Councilman Mike Freeman, helping out at the Kenmore-Garfield high school distribution, agreed with Sommerville that availability of the tests has to improve.
By 10:40 a.m., about half of his site’s 805 tests had been handed out by council aide Holly Reimer and volunteers that included her son, Charlie Reimer, 14.
Freeman said three of his children have contracted COVID-19 and his son has had it twice. Although the second bout, presumably with the omicron variant, wasn’t as severe, a daughter had a more difficult time.
“[She] had weeks and weeks of respiratory [problems],” he said. “This is serious. Think beyond yourself and wear the mask.”
Freeman said he’s hoping the state’s senators will become more active in seeking help from the federal government.
“We need folks to represent us in Washington,” he said.
The councilman said it’s likely council will consider a resolution to along those lines.
“I see that coming next council meeting,” he said.
Tests were also distributed at Joy Park Community Center on Fuller Street.
Almost a road trip
Holland said the lack of test availability has been on her mind since the holiday season. She’s encouraged by a federal website that will take orders for COVID-19 tests and ship them directly to people's homes.
But the development of an effective distribution system has taken too long, she said.
Her concerns became so intense, she and Councilman Shammas Malik considered picking up some tests on their own to distribute.
“We were prepared to get in my pickup truck and drive up to Columbus to get a pallet about Christmas time,” she said. “We were ready to do that. I’d go to Kansas City [for tests].”
The councilwoman said another distribution by council may come in the future, if it’s needed.
“It should not be hard at all to get a test,” she said.
Councilman Jeff Fusco, also at the West Exchange site, helped unload the last few tests as cars pulled up for the remaining kits.
He said the distribution was helpful, but stressed that the COVID-19 vaccines were more important.
“If we could get more people vaccinated, that would be the biggest goal,” he said.
Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron council calls for feds to step up with COVID-19 at-home tests