Elrich frustrated by lack of availability of coronavirus tests

Elrich frustrated by lack of availability of coronavirus tests

Health officer says there have been ‘physical altercations’ over tests

| Published:
Elrich briefing

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich talks on Sunday about the need for more coronavirus testing. With him are, from left, County Council Members Andrew Friedson, Craig Rice and Sidney Katz.

Image from Montgomery County video

As the number of cases of coronavirus disease climbs, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said he is frustrated that testing is not as widely available as it should be.

“We dearly need the federal government to get serious about the provision of testing,” he said during a press conference on Sunday.

As of Sunday evening, Maryland had 32 cases of coronavirus, including 12 in Montgomery County.

The number of people with coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, is artificially low because people can’t get access to tests, Elrich said. “It’s simply our inability to test for the cases. We need to get that information if we’re going to keep our community safe.”

The Trump administration said Sunday that, starting this week, labs across the country will be able to process coronavirus screenings for up to 4,000 people a day, NPR reported.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer, said during Sunday’s press conference that tension over the availability of tests has bubbled over.

“We’ve received reports over the weekend that in some spaces, there have been physical altercations, and lots of upset feelings expressed,” he said, “where in some cases, law enforcement had to be called in to defuse the situation.”

Asked later if she was aware of any Montgomery County police calls related to confrontations over coronavirus tests, Sgt. Rebecca Innocenti, a spokeswoman for the department, said she was not, but she would check with her colleagues.

At first, testing was limited to people based on their travel history, Gayles said. People who had been in high-risk countries were tested, which resulted in the first several Montgomery County cases coming from people who traveled abroad.

Gayles said testing has broadened, but is still restricted to people who have symptoms that can’t be explained as other possible illnesses, such as the flu.

Until last week, all tests had to go through the state of Maryland, in consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, two private labs — Quest and LabCorp — are doing testing, too, Gayles said. Independent practitioners and health systems can send samples there for testing without coordinating with the state or CDC.

He said the county is trying to expand the number of options for local testing.

Because the volume of testing has increased, Gayles said, “we could see a significant increase on a daily basis” of the number of positive tests.

People who think they might have coronavirus symptoms should check with their health care provider first, to consider if it might be connected to another illness or an allergy, Gayles said.

People who don’t have health care providers can check with an urgent care facility or a hospital, he said.

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