Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

County officials are finalizing plans for a new mass coronavirus testing site in Germantown. They also are working to distribute at-home rapid tests through county libraries — possibly beginning this week.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard told reporters that many logistics need to be worked out with the library distribution sites, including staffing, organizing lines to collect the tests, and where and when residents can pick them up.

It’s unclear how many tests would go to each library and which ones would first offer distribution, but Stoddard said the county would likely start with a “first wave” of around three to five or so. Officials would ramp up the number of sites in the coming weeks, perhaps to around 19 libraries that can handle distribution, he added.

Stoddard said officials are aware of the huge demand for testing — especially at-home tests. County officials said they expect to receive a little more than 1.1 million tests from vendors in the coming weeks to distribute to schools, libraries and other community partners. Of those, 392,000 have arrived or are coming this week, they said.

The county has given 100,000 tests to Montgomery County Public Schools, and another 90,000 will be shipped to schools later this week. 

At libraries, people will need to provide proof that they reside in the county, and a limit of two per household will be set, Stoddard said. He added that ultimately, supply shouldn’t be the issue in the coming weeks at libraries and other sites — it’s the logistics of getting the tests out.

“We have to make sure that the sites can withstand the rush of people, that we expect [coming] to get them,” Stoddard said. “And so we’re trying to design this in a way that people are not going to be super frustrated by the process, [and] that they can be in all the communities.”

Stoddard added that officials are looking at varying time frames in the day and evening hours to accommodate people’s schedules, and offering the test kits in waves — for example, giving one library site 500 test kits on the first day, seeing how much demand there is, and adjusting accordingly.

Sean O’Donnell, the county’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Manager, said that along with libraries, the county will also continue to send at-home test kits to other partners, including the Minority Health Initiative, Primary Care Coalition Partners, Community Hubs, homebound residents and others.

In addition to those tests, county officials have been receiving 2,500 to 5,000 tests weekly from the state. 

“As these tests come in, we’re going to keep trying to have them go out through multiple different means to get to the public,” O’Donnell said. “I know … there’s just huge demand for it. And we’re going to try to be able to meet as many people’s needs as we can.”

Other testing sites

County health officials said they are also working with the state health department and other state officials to open up a mass testing site in Germantown. O’Donnell said that site could be supported by the state National Guard and open within seven days.

He added that he hopes these sites and the availability of at-home test kits and other testing facilities will help with demand, and urged residents not to go to emergency rooms at hospitals if all they need is a test. 

Stoddard said county officials have discussed other potential sites with the county’s Fire and Rescue Service — not at fire stations for logistical reasons, but other buildings under the service’s operation.

Officials noted that the state site in Germantown would likely feature PCR testing, versus antigen testing in the take-home rapid tests. There is value in the immediate results of the latter, but PCR tests still have value, they added.

O’Donnell said many need PCR tests to travel or to return to work. Anybody showing COVID-like symptoms should isolate regardless of testing availability, he said.

“This should not be predicated on specifically getting results back in 15 minutes, or a day or two days later,” O’Donnell said. “If you’re sick, you need to isolate. But again, we do understand that the convenience of the rapid testing and distribution … is something that’s helping a lot of people out, and that’s the reason why we are pursuing that.”

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

Steve Bohnel

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