Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday announced that the state will be the first in an interstate testing compact to purchase and deploy hundreds of thousands of rapid screening COVID-19 tests to residents.
Maryland will distribute the first half of 500,000 antigen tests, which can deliver results in 15 minutes, to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and correctional and juvenile detention centers. There are talks about deploying the tests to university campuses and dormitories.
“This state-of-the-art rapid testing will be critically important to our continued economic recovery and will help us to keep the people of our state safe,” Mr. Hogan said at a press conference. “This new acquisition will also help us tackle isolated outbreaks and cluster scenarios similar to situations we confronted earlier months ago in nursing homes and poultry processing plants on the Eastern Shore.”
The Republican governor said the rapid screening tests will not take the place of PCR diagnostic molecular tests offered at government operated clinics, which he described as making up the “backbone” of the state’s long-term testing strategy but can take days to see results.
Last month, five Republican and five Democratic governors formed a testing compact to each purchase 500,000 rapid antigen tests for their states: Mr. Hogan, Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson, Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards, Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper, Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Utah’s Gary Herbert and Virginia’s Ralph Northam.
The states will buy the tests from Becton Dickinson and Quidel Corp., U.S.-based manufacturers that have developed rapid screening tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Rockefeller Foundation is working with the states to develop policies and standards for use of these antigen tests.
“Testing is really the only way out. Complete shutdowns of the U.S. economy here in Maryland or anywhere else in the nation are simply not viable or affordable to the people who suffer the most when that takes place: essential workers and working families,” Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, told reporters Thursday.
“These tests will allow people to get quick results within minutes and will do so at a sufficient sensitivity to ensure we can pinpoint people who are positive and take them out of the chain of transmission much more quickly and much more effectively and in a much more comprehensive way than America has been able to do to this point,” Dr. Shah said.
Each test costs about $30 and is being funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Mr. Hogan.
So far, Maryland has completed more than 2.1 million tests for about a quarter of the state’s population.
As of Thursday, the coronavirus has infected more than 114,000 and killed more 3,600 people in Maryland, health department data show. The state testing positivity rate is at 3.71%.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich on Thursday called antigen tests “very important tests” and said that county officials are waiting for updates on how and when these tests will be distributed. Officials also are looking into securing rapid screening tests for the county.
County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles told reporters that the state has seen increases in its positivity rate and cases per 100,000 people in recent days and some decreased testing here and there.
Testing volume for the state has varied. For some days in September, clinics were administering nearly 25,000 to 30,000 tests. However, only 9,913 tests were done on Tuesday, dipping from 12,953 tests on Monday. On Wednesday, the state recorded a testing volume of 18,794.
Dr. Gayles said he hopes officials can break through the testing fatigue and remove any barriers to accessing testing, thereby ramping up testing again.
Montgomery County has the second highest number of coronavirus infections in the state, with more than 20,800 cases, trailing behind Prince George’s County.
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