Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This story was updated at 6:35 p.m. Jan. 4, 2022, to include more exact numbers of the amount of coronavirus rapid tests the county expects to receive. 

Montgomery County health officials are looking to expand coronavirus testing in upcoming weeks through mass testing sites countywide, as the omicron variant of the virus drives up the number of cases.

County Council Member Will Jawando said during a meeting Tuesday that officials should look not only at expanding mass testing at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, but at other sites countywide.

James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, said health officials are also looking at Service Consolidation Hubs — where food and other resources are offered to the community — to stand up for testing.

Mark Hodge, the acting senior administrator for school health services at the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, told the County Council that hopefully three hub sites could soon host testing.

In an interview, Hodge would not say the three locations where testing might occur, as health officials need to confirm that the locations can handle testing on a large scale, he said. He indicated during Tuesday’s meeting that smaller facilities, like a small church, likely wouldn’t be able to accommodate testing.

The hubs act as a “one-stop shop” for food distribution and general social services for county residents at various locations countywide, he said.

Hodge said multiple factors determine if a hub site can be used, including: 

  • Enough space to serve people, but still allow them to be physically distanced
  • Sufficient parking
  • Sufficient ventilation
  • Accessibility for pedestrians or by other forms of transit

Hodge said the main challenge is staffing for test sites at the hubs. When schools were closed, school nurses, health technicians and others could conduct testing countywide, but they are no longer available.

The county, however, has partnerships with health contractors who can help fill that void, as long as they have staffing, Hodge said.

“From my perspective, we can set these up fairly quickly, we have the contractors to get them staffed, we have the buildings at the hubs in order to do so,” Hodge said.

The locations could be open within a week or so, he said.

Testing locations could expand outside the first three hub locations, if there is sufficient staffing, he said. Cost hasn’t been the issue, but rather the number of people who can conduct and run a testing site, Hodge added.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said during Tuesday’s meeting that county officials also will increase the availability of testing by distributing take-home rapid tests at community locations countywide, like at libraries or similar facilities.

Previously, health officials said that a lack of supply for take-home rapid tests prevented the county from trying that approach, which Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions have used. 

Stoddard said in a brief interview that county officials received 196,000 tests on Tuesday. Of those, 100,000 will be sent to Montgomery County Public Schools on Wednesday.

In total — including the first shipment — the county hopes to receive 350,000 tests this week, and about a million within the next 14 days, Stoddard said. Once the second delivery of tests arrives, the county will distribute another 90,000 to MCPS. 

County officials will detail their plans for the remaining kits — over 150,000 this week — during a news briefing Wednesday, Stoddard said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com 

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com