Maryland can now test for coronavirus on its own

On Tuesday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that Maryland’s State Public Health Laboratory was approved to now test for coronavirus (COVID-19), which means state health officials no longer have to wait for test results to be returned from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s labs in Georgia. 

This comes as Maryland added at least 7 new cases to be tested to its list. The governor’s office says we should expect to see more tests. 

“Until recently, the CDC guidelines for testing were limited to patients with clear symptoms of infection who had either traveled to a geographic region of concern or who were in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, the CDC expanded testing criteria to include severely ill hospitalized patients within unexplained acute lower respiratory symptoms,” the press release read.

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Montgomery County’s top doctor announced Maryland testing news to county leaders during a briefing held before the county council hearing on coronavirus. This was actually supposed to be a Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services committee meeting that was changed to address the pressing illness.

“What we’re telling people is to make sure that they continue to make sure they follow precautions that we’ve preached over the last month. Those recommendations haven’t’ changed, and that’s making sure to wash hands thoroughly, clean surfaces – if you are sick, staying at home, you know, away from work and way from school to minimize your exposure to other folks,” said the county’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. 

He and the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security director briefed the council and board of education members on county preparations, which includes making sure a remote Office of Emergency Manage is ready to go. 

Dr. Gayles stressed that contraction in the area is low. If there is a contraction, he told councilmembers those who have more serious underlying health issues, many of the elderly for example, are more susceptible. 

The councilmembers, in return, asked questions about health insurance and what to do if a person does not have coverage. “Come through and we’ll figure that out,” Dr. Gayles answered, emphasizing the importance of seeking care if you feel you should be tested for coronavirus. 

"It is critically important to make sure that you call ahead before going to a health care provider, as that is one of the key ways that we will have the possibility of containing the spread…” Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said at Mayor Bowser’s Tuesday coronavirus news conference. 

In the D.C. news conference, Bowser announced that $500,000 was directed to order personal, protective equipment and other necessary supplies for first responders. It was also announced that D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency upgraded their status to “enhanced watch.” 

The head of DC’s Forensics’ Lab says DC is now also able to test for coronavirus and expect to test 80 samples a day by next week. 

National events like the 2020 Cherry Blossom Festival would kick-off as planned, according to Bowser.

In Montgomery County, other questions asked included whether officials would cancel school in Montgomery County over coronavirus. Dr. Gayles has the authority do so. He would not give a “threshold” for how many cases the county would need to see in order to cancel class over coronavirus, but he did say the decision would not be made in a vacuum. 

“Any decision of that magnitude … would be made in consultation with other county officials recognizing that the impact of those decisions could have significant impact on the operations of other agencies,” said Gayles. 

By Monday afternoon, the Maryland Department of Health website noted 7 pending tests in the state. Gayles informed the county council that number is actually 8. In a teleconference Monday, the CDC also encouraged members of the media participating to look toward your local and state agencies for the most updated information now that more states are gaining the ability to test on their own. 

Maryland and DC health officials confirmed as of Tuesday afternoon, there are still no confirmed coronavirus cases in those two jurisdictions. 

Leaders in both areas also warned against Xenophobia as coronavirus fears grow. 

"It is also worth noting that the Coronavirus does not recognize race, nationality or ethnicity. While the virus started in China, that's just geography. It does not mean anyone with Chinese ancestry is more vulnerable or likely to have the illness,” said Bowser.