UPDATED: County halts COVID-19 tests with AdvaGenix after state raises protocol concern
Almost all testing sites temporarily shut down until alternative testing found
Logo from Montgomery County
This article was updated at 9:05 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2020, to clarify that all testing sites except for one have been closed.
Montgomery County temporarily shut down nearly all of its COVID-19 testing sites amid concerns about the testing and processing protocols of Rockville lab AdvaGenix.
During a media briefing on Thursday, County Executive Marc Elrich said the county canceled testing at two sites on Thursday and Friday until AdvaGenix could reassess its testing and lab process.
The county announced later on Thursday that it would be closing all of its testing sites except for the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center which will use state-provided testing.
“We heard late yesterday that the state health department had raised questions about protocols of AdvaGenix, which is the company that does most of our testing,” he said. “In an abundance of caution, not knowing what this is about and what the impact of the decision of the state might be, we decided we should halt testing that uses those kits.
“In the meantime, we are continuing to do testing for people who are symptomatic because we’ve got test kits for that. We are looking for backup supplies of other test kits so we can continue the process of testing.”
AdvaGenix could not be immediately reached Thursday.
Asked for an explanation of the state’s concern, Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, wrote in an email on Thursday that he would respond as soon as possible.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said he was not yet aware of the specific concerns about the company.
“We don’t have the specific date right now,” he said. “So when we found that out, and in an abundance of caution and until we get more specific data, we made the decision to temporarily halt our test sites that had used the AdvaGenix test kits predominantly.”
In an announcement of testing suspension released later on Thursday, Gayles recommended that residents who have been tested in the past two weeks with an AdvaGenix test at a county testing site be retested at another location.
The two sites at the Silver Spring Civic Building and White Oak Community Recreation Center were the test sites that were closed first.
The other testing sites operated by the county that were closed later are located at:
• Plum Gar Community Recreation Center in Germantown
• Mid-County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring
• Lincoln Park Community Center in Rockville
Residents with testing appointments on Thursday were notified that their appointments were canceled.
The county will reopen the testing sites once alternative testing is found, Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s health department, told Bethesda Beat Friday morning.
There are more than 30 testing sites operated by the county, state, medical providers and others in the county.
Gayles said the county is working to repurpose the two sites and looking at how to provide other testing at those locations. AdvaGenix provided self-administered tests primarily for asymptomatic residents.
Up to 1,250 tests are administered at the sites combined over a two-day period every week. AdvaGenix has provided roughly 8% of the more than 251,000 tests that have been administered in the county. More than 19,000 AdvaGenix tests have been used in the past two months.
“That volume is significant, which is again why we’re working to stand up other alternatives,” Gayles said. “Again, recognizing we are waiting for specific data to be able to guide that conversation and discussion. We are also looking at leveraging the other resources we have to be able to get those folks who were scheduled in as quickly as possible to test, as well as making sure we have continuity and sustainability of the testing efforts we already have in place.”
Elrich said that despite having “pretty good” numbers as far as test positivity in the county, there are still many confirmed cases.
As of Thursday morning, there have been 18,752 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 768 confirmed deaths from the virus in the county. After declining daily increases in the first week of August, the percentage increased, and has risen and fallen since then.
“We’re looking at days where we’re going from the high 60s, which is where we were a couple weeks ago, to in and around 100 cases a day,” Elrich said of the number of new cases per day in the county. “That is far too much infection in the community. We just can’t wash it off and say it’s because we’re testing more.”
The county’s restrictions will continue to stay in place, including requirements for wearing face coverings and physical distancing, he said.
Gayles said county officials have also seen an increase in the percentage of cases in children and youths up to age 19.
“Cumulatively, that age group was making up somewhere between 8% or 9% [of county cases],” he said. “Over the last month, both here in Montgomery County, as well as looking at the state level, the percentage of new cases of 0 to 19 year olds has increased to 17% to 18%. So basically, it’s almost doubled in the last month.”
Contact tracers have found that indoor and outdoor dining was a significant source of transmission of the coronavirus for a quarter of the people who have been interviewed in the county.
“We don’t want to have to close thesedown, which means we need people to adhere to the strictest possible guidelines so we can keep them open,” Elrich said.
Gayles added that family gatherings have also been identified by contact tracers as a source of high transmission.
He reiterated that people should not let their guard down and they should continue to follow face covering and physical distancing guidelines.
“It’s OK to have gatherings, it’s OK to get together. But in that setting, you still have to adhere to those public health guidelines, even if you’re around family members [who don’t live in the same house],” he said.
The county is reviewing guidelines for soccer and swimming after the community has asked for revisions.
“There is no absolute science and no absolute certainty on what risk it is,” Elrich said of soccer. “But for sure, it’s not low risk.”
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.