The Howard County COVID-19 testing site will continue through June 2021, despite the state’s contract with Optum expiring sooner.
The current contract with Optum will expire this month, and the Howard County Health Department then will take over operations. The site, which originally was set to close earlier this summer, will be taken over without delay or reductions in the amount of testing that will be completed. The testing center will remain at the Kokomo Senior Center in Foster Park at 721 W. Superior St.
According to public health emergency coordinator Kristina Sommers, the health department will seek to keep testing procedures similar to Optum’s.
“It ought to be mostly the same as the Optum site,” Sommers said. “We also plan on hiring some of the Optum staff, so even some of the people will remain the system.”
COVID-19 testing at the center will remain free and available through walk-ins and by appointments.
Howard County is one of the Indiana counties receiving a local testing initiative grant that will make the continuation of the site possible. Howard County was approved for $200,000. The grant will cover wages for the employees at the testing center, and the state will provide PPE, testing equipment, and sample couriers.
The Howard County Health Department also will be expanding its testing capabilities through the use of a mobile site, which will be set up in different areas in the county.
The health department will partner with American Health Network, which will complete 20 tests per day by appointment only and also will partner with Community Howard Regional Health to use the mobile testing site each Friday. So far, the health department has the mobile testing site set to visit Kokomo-Howard County Public Library South Branch, Kokomo-Howard County Public-Library Russiaville, Community Howard Physician Clinic in Greentown, and the Carver Community Center. The mobile site will operate on a set schedule and location every Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The goal for the mobile site, Sommers said, was to provide as much testing as possible.
“I don’t want anyone to push off testing,” Sommers said. “Someone will say, ‘I should get tested, but the mobile clinic will be here in three days. So I’ll wait.’ They should get tested immediately. But it’ll still offer more testing throughout the county as well.”
According to Sommers, the county-ran site will use nasopharyngeal swabs for adults and anterior nares tests for children 12 and under. The former is a longer, more invasive test, while the latter is less invasive.
Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman praised the grant and highlighted its importance to the county.
“It’s great news for our community because, through the testing site, we get incredible information from it that we use as a management tool not only to identify those who have COVID-19 but also gives us an opportunity to ensure contact tracing is done and get those folks who have been exposed quarantined as well, which helps reduce the spread,” Wyman said.
Per stipulations of the local testing initiative grant, the county-ran testing site must be open on Saturdays and at least two nights per week, which would extend the hours of the current testing site. The hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday; and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. However, Sommers said, those hours were subject to change as needed.
The testing site is awaiting approval of the contract from the state. Sommers said that once the contract is finalized, the county-ran testing site will be able to be operational the next day.