Amid the latest surge in the coronavirus, in part due to the omicron variant, there has been an increase in demand in COVID-19 testing, Montgomery County officials said.
On Wednesday, county officials provided more details on demand on county-run clinics, along with where they have been distributing rapid coronavirus tests.
Here are some questions and answers on testing.
Where can I get tested for the coronavirus in Montgomery County?
There are multiple options, although officials stressed Wednesday that demand has been high during the holiday season. Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, told reporters Wednesday that testing at county-run sites had increased by 85% during the last week.
The county is running multiple clinics across the county, but officials encouraged residents to call ahead to see what the availability is, and register if necessary. Test results are typically available in two to three days from those clinics.
Pharmacies are also offering drive-through testing and take-home test kits for purchase countywide. But County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday that many times, the demand is greater than the supply.
“I’ve heard from people who talked about going to multiple stores and not being able to find a kit in the store,” Elrich said. “I think it kind of just fluctuates … and they’re probably like us — it’s a constrained supply chain.”
What is the availability of rapid tests in the county? Where are they going?
The county has been distributing rapid COVID-19 tests to multiple community partners. Through Wednesday, the county received and distributed about 23,000 rapid tests, sending them to various partners, including the Latino Health Initiative, African American Health Program, Asian American Health Initiative, homeless shelters and several others.
Also as of Wednesday, the county had been receiving about 2,500 rapid tests weekly from the Maryland Department of Health, officials said. Those tests are being distributed to community partners, based on an equity framework officials have set up to help communities that have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pharmacies have also been administering them, but the availability varies by location.
Some jurisdictions have been distributing take-home, rapid tests at libraries. Is Montgomery County doing that?
According to multiple news reports and social media, many libraries in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions have been handing out rapid tests. Lines have formed outside those facilities as people rush to grab tests.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard told reporters that Montgomery County has not distributed them to libraries because of the overall demand they’ve seen in other jurisdictions. Officials don’t want to have people wait outside a library, which then runs out of tests within minutes.
“The interest in these kits is extremely high,” Stoddard said. “And what happens is they become a wanted commodity, and the people who have the most access to take time off from work, to go and sit in front of a library or to … drive over are the ones who end up getting the kits. And that’s not necessarily the people who … are at the most at-risk or … don’t have other means to acquire tests.”
Stoddard wishes that more rapid tests were available nationwide, but until then, county officials are trying to use an equitable approach to distributing them, as was done with the vaccine distribution.
“We will assuredly grow into having libraries and other places where [and when] they are ubiquitously available just as we did through vaccine rollouts,” he said. “But we want to make sure that we have enough kits, where it doesn’t just become the most able among us [who] are able to camp out [at] a library and get a kit.”
What is the state and federal government doing to increase supply/testing capacity?
Earlier this week, Gov. Larry Hogan announced another round of funding to help increase testing capacity at hospitals, nursing homes and schools across the state.
Hogan pledged $50 million to nursing homes and hospitals to increase access to coronavirus testing, treatment and vaccines. He also announced $30 million for schools statewide to help purchase tests and resources.
The governor said he is mobilizing the Maryland National Guard to help with testing sites/administration.
President Joe Biden announced this week that his administration would provide up to 500 million free rapid at-home testing kits for all Americans to request through a website, but initial delivery to homes won’t start until January.
Biden’s administration said it would use the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of tests.
If you can’t find any available testing sites or at-home test kits in the county, what should you do?
Try looking at other nearby jurisdictions throughout the state or in Washington., D.C., if you can. O’Donnell said it’s not ideal, but he urged residents to keep looking for appointments on the county’s website, at pharmacies around the region or other avenues.
Officials hope that in the coming weeks, the supply of tests increases.
“I definitely empathize with people looking for testing. It’s become a little more challenging,” O’Donnell said. “But you know, these are the ways to try to find it. And I think a large number of people have been successful, kind of working through this process to find testing.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org