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State sets 10% COVID-19 testing goal

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ANNAPOLIS — Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland Department of Health officials recently urged county leaders to increase local COVID-19 testing to meet the goal of testing 10% of their populations. On the Mid-Shore, only Dorchester County has achieved that goal. Kent County has tested 9.7% of its population; Talbot, 7.8%; and Caroline, 7.0%. At 4.3%, Queen Anne’s County ranks lowest in the state.

“Widespread testing is critical to saving lives and safely reopening more and more of our economy, which is why state health officials are setting a goal of testing 10% of the population in all of our 24 jurisdictions,” Hogan said. “The State of Maryland will continue to have an abundant supply of testing available at no out-of-pocket cost to anyone in our state who needs to be tested, and we are looking to our county leaders to do their part by expanding testing efforts at the local level.”

MDH Secretary Robert Neall and Deputy Secretary Fran Phillips sent a letter June 18 to local jurisdictions: “As part of our COVID-19 testing expansion, Maryland continues to make large quantities of specimen collection kits directly available to local health departments. Given that the state has a long-term strategic supply of tests, there is no need to stockpile these resources or turn away our allocations. Instead, we ask that your local health departments use these tests to increase the number and capacity of community-based testing sites. We urge you to make every effort and come up with innovative ways to provide your residents and businesses with open and convenient access to testing.”

As of June 18, Maryland had tested 7.4% of its total population.

Two steps endorsed by the state to increase testing are broadening criteria for testing to include those who are asymptomatic and making appointment-free testing available at high-volume, community-based sites.

Laura Patrick, director of nursing at the Caroline County Health Department, said they submitted their plan to reach the 10% goal to the state Friday morning. She said they have been working with partners in the community to offer testing and had participated in the test site at Chesapeake College.

On Saturday, June 20, the health department partnered with Caroline Emergency Services and Choptank Community Health to hold a COVID-19 drive-thru clinic at Immaculate Conception Church of Marydel. In about 90 minutes, 42 people were tested.

Choptank has done more than 1,300 COVID-19 tests since February, Chief Operating Office Jonathan Forte said. They were able to obtain testing materials from the state, from a lab in Frederick and from LabCorp. Recently, test material has become a lot more accessible from the state, he said.

Emergency Services Director Anna Sierra said her staff had participated in mass testing for poultry workers in Federalsburg a few weeks ago.

Patrick said the health department plans to host more community clinics like the one at the church. Testing also is available at the Choice One Urgent Care center in Denton.

In Dorchester County, Angela Grove, public information officer and health education program manager for the local health department, said collaboration was the key to reaching the 10% goal.

From the beginning of the state of emergency in March, “Dorchester County Health Department has worked tirelessly to ensure testing is available to all members of our community,” Grove said.

Dorchester COVID-19 test clinics have been free and open to all, regardless of symptoms, and they have traveled around the county to make testing as accessible as possible, she said.

“We have a strong testing team, including bilingual employees, at our health department and testing plans in place to cover details such as traffic control, registration, education, testing and more,” Grove said.

They have held free COVID-19 community testing at schools throughout the county — Hurlock Elementary, South Dorchester Elementary, North Dorchester Middle, Mace’s Lane Middle, Warwick Elementary, Cambridge-South Dorchester High School and Vienna Elementary.

On Wednesday, June 24, they are hosting a free, walk-up COVID-19 testing clinic from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the grass lot at the corner of Cedar and Race streets in Cambridge. On Thursday, June 25, a clinic is planned for 1 to 3 p.m. at Cambridge-South Dorchester High School.

“We do not require an appointment, insurance, or a doctor’s order,” Grove added.

She was working on the county’s longterm plan and said the health department would continue testing as long as they had the capacity and supplies to do so.

“We are continuously adding testing events to our schedule,” Grove said. “We are still going to different sites throughout the county, but plan to offer on-site testing at the health department on Cedar Street in the near future.

“We want to test anyone who wants to be tested.”

Grove said local doctors continue to offer testing. Also, the Walmart in Cambridge offers testing by appointment to those meeting state guidelines.

Queen Anne’s County Health Department is taking steps to expand access to COVID-19 testing, according to Deputy Health Officer Jennie Burris.

“Private medical practices who are testing their patients are provided by supplies as needed for start-up,” Burris said. “Mobile testing sites and a drive through for residents is currently being planned for July.”

Additional information will be available made when details are finalized, she said.

“At this time, the health department is prioritizing vulnerable populations with emphasis on those who are not able to attend sites for testing,” Burris said.

Queen Anne’s Health Officer Dr. Joseph Ciotola said, “We are aware that the state is reporting a low testing percentage for Queen Anne’s County. Our numbers do not coincide with the state’s numbers, and we are working to get that corrected.”

The county reported 220 residents testing positive with three hospitalized and 13 local deaths at the end of the day Tuesday, June 23.

“We continue to be impressed by the cooperation and assistance of our citizens in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Ciotola said.

Edwards Pharmacy in Centreville is offering COVID-19 drive-up testing by appointment.

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