Maryland residents will now be able to get tested for COVID-19, whether or not they have symptoms or a doctor’s referral.
About 3.5 percent of Maryland residents have now been tested for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, Gov. Larry Hogan announced in a statement Tuesday morning. The state has conducted more than 200,000 tests.
Now the state will offer tests to anyone who believes they have been exposed to the disease, even if they do not have symptoms, Hogan said. These tests will be offered, appointment-free, at community-based testing sites across the state. This includes two more VEIP stations in Prince George’s County being converted into testing sites.
“This will help doctors diagnose and treat new cases more quickly, and it will further increase the safety of our state for all citizens,” Hogan said in the statement. “In addition, we are authorizing and actively encouraging the state’s hundreds of pharmacies to directly order and administer COVID-19 tests, another way we can make testing more widely available in our communities.”
Tests will be available, starting Thursday, at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Baltimore County. On Friday, tests will also be available at the VEIP stations in Glen Burnie and Hyattsville. Testing will also open next week at the Clinton VEIP station in Prince George’s County, according to the announcement.
Licensed pharmacists will also be able to collect samples for testing, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing guidelines, according to Hogan’s announcement.
Frederick Health, which operates one of the larger testing sites in Frederick County, will not offer tests to those without symptoms due to limited testing materials, said spokeswoman Kelsey Shupe in an email.
Due to material limitations, Frederick Health prioritizes tests for symptomatic patients, hospitalized patients, pre-surgical patients, health care providers and first responders, Shupe said.
“Once we can secure an adequate supply of testing supplies and reagents, Frederick Health will open our testing up to everyone, regardless of symptoms. Until then, people without symptoms will need to seek alternatives, such as commercial labs and provider offices,” she said in an email.
The Frederick County COVID-19 Testing Task Force is working to expand testing in the county, including testing for those without symptoms who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, said Dr. Randall Culpepper, deputy health officer for Frederick County. But it is not quite there.
“Our objective is to have testing available for all individuals, regardless of symptoms, especially those who are contacts of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases. Currently, Frederick County residents who don’t have COVID-19 symptoms can contact their healthcare provider about being tested, and their provider can authorize a test at their discretion,” Culpepper said in an email.
Deaths, cases rise as hospitalizations decline
The number of deaths from COVID-19 reached a six-day high Tuesday, with 60 newly reported deaths announced by the Maryland Department of Health in the last 24 hours.
There have now been 1,963 people who have died from COVID-19 since March 18, when the first death in Maryland was announced. That means 31-times more people have died from COVID-19 in two months than from influenza during the seven-month flu season.
COVID-19 also accounts for 3.7-times more deaths in Maryland than roadway fatalities did in 2019, according to the most recent data available from the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Frederick County reported an additional death Tuesday evening, bringing the county death toll to 93. The most recently reported death is a woman in her 80s.
It is unclear how many deaths have come from long-term care facilities. The Maryland Department of Health updates information on cases and deaths from nursing homes once a week, on Wednesdays.
There are at least 77 deaths without county data available. Some of the deaths are likely from Frederick County as the Frederick County Health Department is reporting 10 more deaths than the state.
It is possible that the state has not reported all the deaths in Frederick County due to lags in reporting between the county and state health departments.
The county now has 1,531 cases, an increase of 28. But while cases increase in the county, an additional 39 people were released from isolation. At this point, 52 percent of those diagnosed with the disease in the county have been released from isolation.
Confirmed cases in the state increased by 1,783, bringing the state total to 41,546, according to the Maryland Department of Health, as of 10 a.m. Tuesday. The increase reported Tuesday is Maryland’s highest single-day increase in cases yet in the pandemic. Actual case counts are also likely higher due to lags between county and state health departments. This does not include the 28 new cases reported by Frederick County Tuesday.
This is likely, in part, due to expanded testing, with the state adding additional testing sites at VEIP stations and Meritus Medical Center now offering tests for people regardless of if they are symptomatic.
In Frederick County, hospitalizations increased by three. The county is seeing the number of hospitalizations flatten out, the News-Post previously reported. Hospitalizations across the state continue to decrease with lower numbers of both intensive and acute care patients. There were 113 additional people reported hospitalized between Monday and Tuesday.
But there were enough people discharged to bring the number of people currently hospitalized down to 1,421, a decrease of 26.
The number of intensive care patients dropped by 18, with acute care patients decreasing to 884.
Hospitalizations and intensive care patients are metrics the governor uses to determine how to proceed with his reopening plan.
The numbers have been declining in the three days since Gov. Larry Hogan announced the first stage of the Roadmap for Recovery. If the numbers continue the trend, the governor could start to reopen more in a couple weeks.
However, many jurisdictions did not open following Hogan’s plan. Counties like Frederick and Howard used modified and delayed reopening plans, as county leadership said they felt it was not right for their respective counties to reopen as quickly.
Hotspots like Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, which consistently lead the state in the number of cases and deaths, also did not reopen, with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks extending the stay-at-home order until June 1.