Myrtle Carter COVID-19 test

Myrtle Carter of Mansfield undergoes a COVID-19 test on Saturday at the Richland County Fairgrounds.

MANSFIELD -- Cars were lined up when the gates opened Saturday at the Richland County Fairgrounds for a free COVID-19 pop-up testing event.

Richland Public Health, the Ohio National Guard and a variety of local agencies and organizations came together to offer the four-hour event, the first such local event since the pandemic began five months ago.

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It's the kind of broad-based testing RPH Commissioner Sarah Humphrey said is essential to determine community spread of the virus -- and also aid in its containment.

"Today's purpose is really to bring testing opportunities to the community," Humphrey said, just before the gates swung open at 750 N. Home Road at 10 a.m.

About 100 vehicles came through the drive-through testing site in the first hour. Those tested came in through the main gates on Home Road, remained in their cars while testing was done by ONG medical staff members, and then exited directly to Lantz Road.

Those being tested can obtain their results online within 48 to 72 hours. RPH nurses will also contact anyone who tested positive. The ONG was using the deep nasal swab test, considered by medical officials to be the most accurate.

"We are really focused on the populations that have access to care issues, who don't have primary care providers or simply need a quick access to testing without having to wait for appointments and things like that," Humphrey said.

Richland County was rated "yellow," or level one, in the state's four-tiered COVID-19 Public Health Advisory System on Thursday. The county has ranked as high as "red," or level three. 

As of Saturday at 2 p.m. in Richland County, there have been 667 positive tests for coronavirus, 89 people hospitalized, 16 deaths and 555 presumed recoveries since the pandemic reached the state in March, according to the Ohio Department of Health website.

There has been an overall decrease in the spread of the virus during the past five weeks, according to the Ohio Department of Health website.

Humphrey said the county has done well in fighting the spread of the disease.

"I believe Richland County, comparatively speaking, as I talk with other health commissioners and other jurisdictions, is doing very well. When you go to a lot of the retail site settings, you're going to see a lot of mask use, which is what has been identified as the best preventative measure," she said. "There's a great collaboration within the community to keep events down. I know that's hard cause we're a very tourist-driven, as well as socially-driven, community.

"But you'll see that a lot of the fairs and festivals have postponed for 2020 and that has been helpful. So much so that in, since the beginning of August, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of active cases."

Masks became mandatory in the county on July 16.

The request for the pop-up testing was made to the state in July by Angel Singleton and Brigitte Coles, co-founders of the local group We ACT.

Just before the event began, Singleton, who also works for the City of Mansfield Parks & Recreation Department, praised everyone locally involved in the effort, including RPH; North End Community Improvement Cooperative; Third Street Family Health Services; Mansfield Police Department; Richland County Sheriff's Office; Richland County Fair Board; Voices for Change, Activism and Leadership; and the Community Emergency Response Team.

"I think it's a great community effort from everyone," Singleton said. "It's so nice to see all of the different agencies here that have came together to make this work."

Singleton said a goal of the effort was to reach people of color, which studies have shown have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. 

"We want to see our Black and Brown people here (Saturday). Being Black women ourselves, it's important to us. But we just want to help the community at large, regardless of color," she said. "We hope that the whole community will come out because we feel that if you know your status from a test, that can help you know more how to interact with your family and others. A lot of people may have the virus while being  asymptomatic and could pass it on to others."

Deanna West-Torrence, founder and executive director of NECIC, said her organization got involved in the testing effort at the request of We ACT.

"I think for us, it was really about trying to make testing more accessible. We had hoped to have (the testing) in the neighborhoods, but because of the volume of traffic, this is really the only place that could handle that kind of volume. So the thing is just to get people tested," West-Torrence said.

RPH health educator Reed Richmond said Saturday's event is at the core of what the public health agency does in the community.

"It really is a neat thing to see all different agencies come together for an event like this to, to make all the arrangements. Anytime you do something like this, it's a lot of people involved," Richmond said. "So it's great to see all those people show up and participate and help us out in these type of events. This is a service to the community and that's what we're all about. All of these people are here to serve the community."

Humphrey said discussions continue with school districts as classes resume in the county and high school fall sports begin.

Contact sports have been approved by Gov. DeWine, including soccer (which began Friday) and football, which begins Aug. 28.

"We have ongoing meetings, both in person and virtually, with the superintendents and the athletic directors. It's the goal of both of those groups to keep sports in particular, going as long as we can, hopefully for a full season," Humphrey said. "They know we have to be very vigilant about the mask use and the social distancing.

"So again, it's a shared vision, knowing how to move forward with those preventative measures. They're going to tow that line, so to speak, very, very closely and we're gonna work with them to make sure that we have the best athletic seasons we can have."

After the event concluded, RPH reported a total of 193 tests were administered, 78 percent of which were taken by Richland County residents. Residents from 12 different counties were tested.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"