Dr. Travis Gayles Credit: Photo from Zoom via screen capture

About 3% of Montgomery County’s population has been tested for coronavirus, the county’s health officer said on Wednesday.

During a virtual news conference, Dr. Travis Gayles said the county is increasing its testing capacity and hopes to test 5% of the county’s population monthly.

The county is working on an “aggressive effort” to test essential employees, Gayles said, echoing comments he made last week about testing more than 2,000 people per day.

“We are continuing to work on that and we’ll be releasing those details shortly,” he said.

County Executive Marc Elrich said the county has signed contracts with local companies in the county’s bio sector that have capacity to provide testing instruments and run the tests, with quick results. He did not name the companies.

Elrich said the county would not buy test kits due to concerns over the state’s shortages of swabs, reagents and other supplies that are needed.

“I could’ve bought kits, and I could’ve bought kits that were incomplete,” Elrich said.

Later on Wednesday, Hogan told reporters that the 500,000 test kits the state purchased from South Korea last month were never intended to go to counties, but instead to labs. Only swabs and extraction tubes, he said, are distributed to counties.

Hogan said Maryland just got 75,000 swabs and extraction tubes from FEMA and another 125,000 are “supposedly days away.”

He said Maryland can currently process 8,000 tests per day.

Elrich said the county hopes to offer mobile testing at some point.

“We’ve talked about bringing our testing out to the grocery stores and the Home Depots of the world because we want to be able to test frontline workers there, as well as our own frontline workers, all the police and fire folks who are out there and the people doing home visits for Child Protective Services or are serving the public in other ways,” he said.

Elrich added that the county also has partnerships with George Washington University and the University of Maryland to help expand its contact tracing operation.

Gayles said that by Thursday, he expects the county to have a hotline operating for people who want to get tested for COVID-19, but don’t have a primary care provider.

He said that when patients call, someone will take their information, and a health care provider will call them back at a specific time. The provider will asks patients about their symptoms to determine whether they qualify for a test.

The number of coronavirus cases in Montgomery County increased to 7,283 on Wednesday. Of those, 1,936, or about 27%, are among residents and staff in congregate facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, 290 residents and four staff members have died in those facilities. Gayles said that adding testing in these facilities will be a priority.

“Part of our early efforts in rolling out those large-scale testing mechanisms will include working with our nursing home facilities and assisted living facilities, to make sure that we can get residents and staff tested,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com


For other Bethesda Beat coverage of the coronavirus, click here.

To see a timeline of major coronavirus developments in Maryland and Montgomery County, click here.