Libraries face new challenges with distribution of COVID-19 test kits

Phones have not stopped ringing in public libraries in Stark County.

Callers, some desperate, want to know if the library has any COVID-19 test kits to take away – and, if so, how they can get one.

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Earlier this month, Stark County District Library workers answered 649 calls in a single day from people asking for free test kits. The Massillon Public Library has received so many calls lately that its genealogical staff have put aside their own work to answer calls from clients about the kits.

Rising calls and demand for the kits – fueled by the ubiquity of delta and omicron variants – has put additional stress on Ohio libraries, some of which have already been strained by staff issues. linked to the pandemic.

“We are happy to respond to a community need. It’s great community service. … But it’s more of a burden on staff than we’re used to, because it’s a whole new service, ”said Louisville Public Library Director Brock Hutchison.

Following:Megan Del Corso gives an overview of the Stark library

To put the recent demand into perspective, Ohio Public Libraries distributed 338,694 test kits between March and September. They distributed more than 645,000 tests in December alone, according to the Ohio Library Council. Libraries statewide have distributed more than 2.24 million tests since March 2021.

The Louisville Public Library last week sold out its stock of nearly 1,000 test kits in three hours, and the North Canton Public Library distributed its shipment of 870 test kits in four hours.

Take-home tests, provided by the Ohio Department of Health, are free for everyone, not just library cardholders. These are Abbott Lab’s 15-minute BinaxNOW COVID-19 tests, which are accepted for those who need a negative test before returning to work. These rapid antigen test kits require users to be able to connect online with a test proctor who will guide them through the testing process. The monitor then sends the test results to an application that must be installed before the session. Tests cannot be administered in libraries, and library staff cannot answer questions about the tests themselves.

The number of tests available per person varies by library. The Louisville Public Library will donate up to four kits per household, while the North Canton Public Library has a limit of two kits per person.

To see a list of places, including non-library locations, that offer the free take-out tests, visit:

The Massillon public library has posted signs asking people with COVID-like symptoms not to enter the building.

Library director: “To embark on a disturbing path”

Some libraries are tackling the extra work with fewer staff.

Statewide, some library systems cannot fill their vacancies. For example, the Columbus Metropolitan Library is looking to fill up to 160 full-time positions to reach its full complement of 870, a library spokesperson said. The shortage has forced the 23 branches of the library stay closed on sunday until further notice. Some library districts have started to increase staff salaries in an attempt to prevent staff from leaving for higher paying jobs.

In County Stark, filling vacancies has not been a major issue, according to library officials.

Jennifer Welsh, senior director of public services at the Stark County District Library, said the district library had seen an increase in retirements caused by the pandemic and increased competition for librarian positions and management graduates. Filling temporary positions, such as substitutes and babysitting positions, has been the biggest challenge, she said.

Sherie Brown, director of the Massillon Public Library, said keeping her current staff healthy and at work has proven to be the most difficult.

Three employees at the Massillon library tested positive over a 24-hour period, and others were on sick leave after being exposed to family members who tested positive for COVID-19. The library, which operates three branches with around 57 full-time and part-time employees, has also had several employees off work for long periods of time after contracting the virus. One employee has had a groundbreaking second case, while another is in his third 40s, Brown said.

“This is going down a worrying path, and I’m concerned that we may be able to maintain the hours of operation we just returned to in October,” Brown said.

Demi Ward looks at books at the Massillon Public Library in Massillon.  With her for the exit, but not visible is Cody Decker.

The library spoke of staff issues when it announced the closure of its main library location at 208 Lincoln Way E. three hours earlier for two days last week. The Belloni branches in Brewster and Askren in Navarre were not affected.

Brown also said that not having the take-home COVID-19 test kits available for residents is having a negative impact on staff who are used to helping.

“Libraries want to provide this service and are honored to have been chosen as accessible and trustworthy. a stressful environment, ”said Brown.

Library directors say it often takes about a week after ordering a new shipment of COVID-19 tests before the kits arrive. Even though managers say they have ordered up to 2,000 tests, the delivery is often 1,000 kits or less.

Information about whether a local library has kits available is often posted on the library’s website and on social media pages.

Judy Mutchler, traffic assistant at the Massillon Public Library, works behind a transparent barrier with a face covering in Massillon.

Adjustment of the distribution process for COVID-19 test kits

Due to the recent increase in demand, some local libraries have adjusted the way they handle the distribution of test kits to reduce staff workload.

At the North Canton Public Library, visitors can now collect up to two test kits at a self-service pickup table in the building’s walkway before entering the library. Previously, visitors had to call the library and a staff member would put the kit in a designated space or take it to the visitor’s car.

“It put a lot of load on our staff and we didn’t feel comfortable coming into contact with potentially ill clients who needed testing,” said Andrea Legg, director of the Canton Public Library. du Nord, which employs nearly 40 people. full-time and part-time workers.

Hutchison, of the Louisville Public Library, said the library no longer asks visitors to call a phone number to take a test. Now a volunteer or staff member is waiting outside for test takers.

Callers from the North Canton and Louisville libraries are also now being greeted with a message indicating whether the library has COVID-19 tests to take away, in an effort to reduce the number of calls library workers must answer.

Hutchison said residents on the whole appreciated the library’s efforts.

“We haven’t experienced the rudeness (that others may have),” he said. “Everyone was very happy that we were doing this. “

Columbus Dispatch editor Dean Narciso contributed to this article.

Contact Kelli at 330-580-8339 or [email protected]

On Twitter: @kweirREP

New requirements for library masks

Canal Fulton and North Canton Libraries have announced new mask requirements, citing a spike in COVID-19 cases in the community.

Fulton Canal Public Library patrons aged 2 and over are now required to wear a mask when entering the building, unless they are unable to wear one for health, medical or religious reasons.

The library will offer a single-use mask for those who do not have a face covering. Those who do not wish to wear a mask can access online services, e-books and an accessible drawer outside the building.

At the North Canton Public Library, patrons aged 2 and over are required to wear a mask when interacting with library staff and when attending in-person programs, including art classes. Masks are not required when navigating inside the building and not interacting with staff.

The Massillon Public Library has moved its storytelling hours scheduled for January to a virtual format. More information, including Zoom links, is available on the library’s website.

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