National Guard COVID-19 test site, which helped ease burden on hospitals, closes

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Ten days after it first opened, the Ohio National Guard-run COVID-19 testing site at the Stark County Fairgrounds closed on Friday.
Ten days after it first opened, the Ohio National Guard-run COVID-19 testing site at the Stark County Fairgrounds closed on Friday.

CANTON – Ten days after it first opened, the Ohio National Guard-run COVID-19 testing site at the Stark County Fairgrounds closed on Friday.

"It looks like we're right on track with the decompression of the testing need," said Brian Shaughnessy, administrative director of project management and performance improvement at Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital. "So that's really the purpose of us closing down today, really just following what the data is showing us."

Around 70 people came through the last morning, down from the initial demand of more than 400 sign-ups. All told, more than 1,300 people got COVID-19 tests at the temporary site.

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Members of the Ohio National Guard, who staffed the site, slowly began heading out as the appointment hours wound down, helping to pack supplies and clean up.

The unused COVID-19 tests will go back to their manufacturer, Mako Medical, and likely be redistributed to south Ohio, where the pandemic's latest surge is picking up steam, Shaughnessy said.

"I would say the bigger need right now is just to continue to be diligent with vaccinations and boosters," Shaughnessy said.

An Ohio National Guardsman checks a couple for COVID-19 last week at the Stark County Fairgrounds.
An Ohio National Guardsman checks a couple for COVID-19 last week at the Stark County Fairgrounds.

The site opened last week, as demand for COVID-19 tests put a strain on already overburdened hospitals and emergency departments.

When it opened, Aultman Hospital incident commander for COVID-19 Angela Caldwell, one of the people overseeing the site, said the hope was that the site would divert some of the people needing COVID-19 tests from hospitals and urgent cares and give the system some breathing room.

Related: National Guard COVID-19 test site hopes to take pressure off overburdened hospitals

Shaughnessy, Caldwell's Mercy counterpart overseeing the Fairgrounds site on its last day, said that that's largely what has happened.

In the 10 days that the site was open — excluding weather related closures during the snow storm — wait times at hospital emergency departments and urgent cares in the area reportedly decreased.

"It's had a tremendous impact on both EDs as well as all of our urgent cares," Shaughnessy said. "We've had a lot fewer patients walk out without treatment and we've seen our admission times go down at both facilities."

More: COVID-19 situation seeing improvements in northeast Ohio, but health officials still cautious

The Stark site is one of a handful in the northeast region of Ohio closing down. Earlier this winter, Northeast Ohio bore the brunt of the COVID-19 surge, with daily case counts and hospitalizations routinely breaking previous records. That's slowed down in the last week or so, though case counts and hospitalizations still remain above the winter 2020 surge levels.

Now, state officials say the pandemic's force is moving south, with case counts and hospitalizations on the rise in Dayton and Cincinnati. Ohio National Guard members who have been supporting testing efforts in the Northeast region of the state are expected to head south to help the health systems there, though National Guard members at the Stark Fairgrounds site on Friday had not yet been told their next duties.

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That doesn't mean Northeast Ohio is out of the woods. The hospitals are still at capacity, and the Ohio Hospital Association COVID-19 dashboard says that 1,001 people currently hospitalized have COVID-19.

"We're gonna watch it closely," Shaughnessy said. "Now with the prevalence of home tests ... there's a lot more available and there's more coming, so we're hoping that'll keep it decompressed, but we're going to watch closely and obviously will react if you have to."

Reach Sam Zern at szern@cantonrep.com or 330-580-8322. On Twitter at @sam_zern.

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Lower demand for COVID-19 tests shifts health support to south Ohio

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