2020 | Coronavirus

Updated: MedStar opens drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Bethesda

For Montgomery County health officer, shortage of coronavirus tests is frustration ‘times 10’

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MedStar has opened Montgomery County's first drive-thru site for coronavirus testing.

Photo from MedStar Health

Clarification: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that MedStar Health’s Bethesda site was the first drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Montgomery County

MedStar Health set up a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Bethesda on Friday.

The site is at the Pauline Betz Addie Tennis Center at 7801 Democracy Blvd. in Bethesda.

A week ago, Montgomery County Marc Elrich said at a press conference that MedStar asked about possible sites. He said the county was thinking about having one at the site of the former White Flint Mall.

At the time, MedStar spokeswoman Marianne Worley said the hope was to have a drive-thru facility up by the end of this week. She said MedStar was considering several locations.

MedStar operates several hospitals in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, including MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney.

Worley said Friday that testing at the new drive-thru site is limited to people who have a physician’s order to get a test. It can come through MedStar’s eVisit system, a virtual telehealth service, or through a MedStar primary care physician or MedStar urgent care center.

Another medical practice set up a coronavirus testing site in Bethesda last week.

On March 20, a primary care and family medicine practice, Kelly Goodman, NP & Associates in Bethesda, started drive-thru testing in the parking lot of the Safeway grocery store at 4701 Sangamore Road in Bethesda, according to a Facebook post by the practice.

Kelly Goodman, NP & Associates wrote on Facebook that to get tested, patients must have symptoms of coronavirus or have known exposure. Patients can also get tested if they get pre-screened through a telehealth appointment.

The practice also posted that it set up drive-thru testing last Wednesday and last Friday outside of the Washington Waldorf School on Sangamore Road. It will hold another drive-thru testing session at the school from noon to 2 p.m. on Monday.

Gov. Larry Hogan said last week that the state of Maryland wants to convert at least some of its Motor Vehicle Administration emissions inspection stations into drive-thru coronavirus testing sites.

The problem, though, is testing availability. There needs to be enough tests to make the effort worthwhile, he said.

Hogan reiterated that idea during a press conference on Monday, saying that five emissions sites across the state were ready to be converted as soon as there were enough coronavirus tests to accommodate them.

On Tuesday, Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, declined to say which sites Hogan was referring to.
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration lists two emissions inspection sites in Montgomery. One is at 2121 Industrial Parkway in the White Oak area. The other is at 15910 Chieftain Ave. in the Derwood area.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer, said the lack of availability of coronavirus tests is keeping the county from making testing more accessible.

Speaking Tuesday to the Montgomery County Council in its capacity as a board of health, Gayles said, “Any frustrations that you all have related to testing capacity, I have them times 10. This is a significant issue.”

Asked by Council Member Will Jawando when more tests were expected, Gayles said, “Two weeks ago.”
“I say that half-jokingly,” he added, “but that has been a constant refrain, where we’ve been told — and this is not just us; the state as well — that more supplies are coming and we’ve just not had them.”

At first, all coronavirus tests in Maryland had to be coordinated between the state Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Maryland later was allowed to handle testing on its own.

Locally, two private labs — Quest and LabCorp — started doing testing, too.

On March 15, Elrich expressed his frustration with the difficulty of getting tests.

“We dearly need the federal government to get serious about the provision of testing,” he said during a press conference that day.
As of March 15, Maryland had 32 positive cases of coronavirus disease, of which 12 were in Montgomery County.

As of Friday — 12 days later — Maryland had 774 positive cases and Montgomery County had 208.

Health and government officials have emphasized they expect the number of positive cases to keep growing as testing becomes more available.
Bethesda Beat staff writer Dan Schere contributed to this story