This story was updated at 3 p.m. April 8, 2020, with additional information about testing and comments from County Executive Marc Elrich.
Montgomery County’s first state-hosted drive-thru coronavirus testing site opened Tuesday morning at the Maryland Vehicle Administration’s emissions testing site in White Oak. Tests are only available to patients who have an appointment from a medical provider.
The White Oak testing site, at 2121 Industrial Parkway, is one of five the state has set up around the state at vehicle emissions centers. The others are in Glen Burnie, Waldorf, Bel Air and Columbia.
Patients receive a referral for a test by a physician, then can make an appointment through the state’s online system.
The White Oak testing site is open on Tuesdays and Thursday, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said Wednesday.
Gayles told reporters on Tuesday morning that the goal will be to test 100 people per day.
During a separate virtual media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Gayles said it’s impossible to say what the county’s daily testing capacity is or how many kits are available.
It’s tough to quantify, he said, because there is sometimes a shortage of materials needed to gather specimens from patients, and other times, there is a shortage in reagents needed to complete the testing.
County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday that the broad lack of adequate testing capability is “an utter national failure.”
Gayles said on Tuesday that once patients are in the state’s online appointment database, their name will show up when they check in at the testing site. They must show some form of identification, Gayles said, which can be a driver’s license or Social Security card.
Gayles said the testing is a partnership between the county’s and state’s health departments, and officials from both will work at the testing site. The county, he said, will provide test kits and staff to administer the tests.
“A large part of the staff who are collecting the samples are county employees,” he said. “We also have some representatives from our police department helping provide traffic control. We’re working with the National Guard and we do have some workers from the state helping coordinate, too.”
On Tuesday Gayles and Elrich said the county is still only able to test patients who have a doctor’s referral due to the limited availability of test kits. Elrich said the county is “leaving no stone unturned” in trying to get more testing equipment.
“We are obviously in competition with everywhere else in the country … in terms of the equipment that’s available,” he said.
A few other drive-thru testing sites set up by private providers have been operating in Montgomery County since last month.
Several weeks ago, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a statewide plan to turn the five vehicle admission facilities into drive-thru coronavirus testing sites.
The plan took longer than anticipated to implement because the state only received 500 testing kits, Elrich said. If the drive-thru sites had opened sooner, the kits would have run out “within a couple of hours and they had no guarantee of a resupply,” Elrich said.
“The news is coming out every day about when these people [federal government leaders] knew and what the projections were,” Elrich said of COVID-19. “… The federal government should have mustered the availability of these kits at day one.”
Elrich added that in a perfect scenario, the county would have walk-in testing sites, where anyone could get tested at the first sign of feeling unwell, but “we’re nowhere near having that availability of tests yet.”
As of Wednesday morning, Montgomery County has had 1,088 known cases of coronavirus, as reported to the state Department of Health. Twenty-six people in the county are reported to have died from the virus.
Health officials stopped including information about the people who died during the last few days of updates.
“Once we have more information about the respective cases and we know that their families have been properly notified, we will be releasing more information about them,” Gayles said.
Dan Schere can be reached at email@example.com