On Wednesday, the first drive-thru coronavirus testing for Charles County residents who are displaying symptoms and are at high risk for complications from the disease was opened at the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program site in Waldorf.
The Maryland Department of Health, in conjunction with the Charles County Department of Health, the Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police, will operate the testing station from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. To qualify for testing at the site, individuals must meet testing criteria as determined by a licensed health care provider, obtain an order for testing from a health care provider and register online to make an appointment at the test site, according to the MDH.
“Right now, there is no vaccine and no treatment for this disease. We are focused on testing people who really need it, and by using these sites, we can allow them to be tested away from busy emergency rooms, urgent care centers and physicians’ offices,” said Deputy Secretary of Public Health Fran Phillips. “People with no symptoms or who are mildly ill do not need testing. Most people who get this virus can recover at home with rest, fluids and over-the-counter fever reducers.”
VEIP sites were also opened as coronavirus testing sites Wednesday in Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County and Bel Air in Harford County.
“As the number of cases rise in Maryland, we are opening these sites to keep pace with the demand for testing. These sites are for residents who are symptomatic and in high risk categories for developing serious illness,” said Gov. Larry Hogan (R). “Like every other state in the nation, we simply do not have enough testing supplies. We need to use our resources wisely.”
MDH Public Information Officer Andy Owen said that the effort to provide testing sites has been planned over the past few weeks, while the site itself took a day to set up. He said that the site will remain active as long as tests are available and as long as there is a need for them to be available.
“This is a fluid situation, things are changing on a day-to-day basis,” Owen said. “We are continuing to monitor as close as possible and reacting in real time.”
Owen said that patients must have a scheduled appointment upon arrival to the testing site, as well as a provider order number from a primary care physician or other licensed provider. He said that patients who are tested can expect results within three to 10 days.
“We’re trying to balance resources and convenience for patients and we are continuing to examine options for opening of other sites,” Owen said. “Like everything else related to the coronavirus situation, it’s evolving on a day-to-day basis and we’re going to make these available to the extent possible.”
After the test is administered, Owen suggested that patients isolate as much as possible and practice social distancing protocols, regardless of a positive or negative result. He said about 100 people across the three sites were tested Wednesday.
At Tuesday’s Charles County Commissioners’ meeting, commissioners were briefed by Dr. Suzan Lowry, the county’s public health officer, on local coronavirus cases and what the county can do to prevent the spread of the virus. As of Thursday, there were 69 confirmed cases in Charles County, with the majority of individuals 18-64 years old, and 2,331 statewide. There has been one death in the county so far due to complications from the virus, according to Lowry.
Lowry told commissioners to expect the number of cases to increase, because that has been the trajectory with the virus in other states. She said the Maryland health care system has been in a surge, meaning additional medical supplies and hospital beds are being gathered in anticipation of the number of individuals who will contract the virus.
“All of us will know someone, a neighbor, family member or coworker who may become COVID-19 positive,” Lowry said. “Many people will have mild symptoms. There are isolation and quarantine measures in place; all residents who are tested positive should follow orders.”
Lowry said that if a test is not readily available to someone experiencing symptoms, seven days must pass with no fever or respiratory issues before quarantine can be lifted. If testing is readily available, patients who previously tested positive must have two consecutive FDA-approved negative tests at least 24 hours apart before lifting quarantine.
Lowry said that there is a priority for who will be tested, including hospitalized patients, symptomatic law enforcement and EMS personnel, residents in long-term care facilities and high-risk patients. While hospitals have testing capabilities, Lowry advised to not go to the emergency room unless the patient thinks it is a real emergency or a provider instructs them to do so.
“Regardless of what the situation is, people will go to ER because that is the only thing open or they cannot reach their provider,” Lowry said. “It is understandable at night, you are scared. All hospitals are taking steps to divert people from ER through education and in parking lots before entering.”
She said that a vaccine for the virus has gone through a phase one study, where the safety of it is tested on animals and a small select number of people who are healthy and of the same demographics. Phase two of the study is scheduled to have randomized larger trials to make sure the vaccine actually protects against getting the virus. While some medicine may help reduce symptoms, currently no drugs have been approved by the FDA, she said.
“Residents should continue social distancing, especially at-risk patients, and continue being informed by the county health department,” Lowry said.
Lowry said she has received a lot of questions regarding the location of COVID-19 positive patients in Charles County. “While I completely understand why someone would ask for that information, according to the attorney general that information cannot be given out,” she said.
The county health department extended hours for its hotline for questions starting Wednesday, now 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. The numbers are 301-609-6717 and 301-609-6777.
Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) told Lowry, “We will continue to follow your lead as we deal with this crisis.”