UPDATED: Montgomery County considering emergency funds, drive-thru coronavirus testing

UPDATED: Montgomery County considering emergency funds, drive-thru coronavirus testing

Elrich says county interested in putting testing facility at former site of White Flint Mall

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Elrich, McGinty's

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich speaks Friday outside McGinty's Public House in Silver Spring.

Photo from Montgomery County government

As the latest responses to the coronavirus pandemic, Montgomery County is considering a pair of emergency funds — $20 million for small businesses and $5 million for individuals. The money would be awarded through grants, but the structure and process have not been worked out.

County Executive Marc Elrich said grants from an “emergency economic assistance fund” might help residents buy food, pay rent and cover other necessary expenses.

“This is a start. We will revisit the numbers as we see how the money gets used,” he said.

Elrich announced the plans on Friday afternoon during a press conference outside McGinty’s Public House in Silver Spring.

“When this crisis begins to end, and things begin to go back to normal-ish, we need to make sure that small businesses can open their doors and resume business,” he said. “Two things have to happen: They have to survive through a period of closure or limited operations and then they have to survive getting open again.”

He is going to send information about the plans to the County Council and work on guidelines, which he expects would take around two weeks.

He also said the county is moving toward having a site for drive-thru coronavirus testing. MedStar Health, which operates several hospitals in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, including one in Montgomery County, offered to set it up, Elrich said, and asked about a good spot.

Elrich said the county is interested in putting it at the site of the former White Flint Mall.

MedStar hopes to have a drive-thru facility up by the end of next week and is still considering several locations, spokeswoman Marianne Worley said.

She said testing would be “limited to prescreened patients through our eVisit platform or their primary care physicians.”

Gov. Larry Hogan said this week that the state of Maryland is working on the same drive-thru idea and plans to put them at the sites of its Motor Vehicle Administration emissions testing facilities, which have been shut down.

Hogan has put in places measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus, such as limits on crowd sizes. The initial limit was 250, then was cut to 50, then 10.

Elrich said the public needs to pay strict attention and follow the restrictions. “We are just one step away from sheltering in place,” he said. “Because when you get below [gatherings of] 10, there’s not much left but saying, ‘We’re going to shelter in place.’”

Elrich knew of at least two private labs currently running tests: LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics.

He said the county also is considering using health clinics at public schools, as long as the state approves the idea.

“We have health clinics at the schools that do not require us to access the interior of the schools,” he said.

The clinics could be a future site for testing, too, Elrich said.

He said he has asked Hogan to suspend the default of commercial loans, rent, mortgages and other payments. Later, he said, there needs to be a phase-in system of returning to debt collection, such as grants to those who are owed money or long-term loans for small-business owners.

He called on financial institutions and landlords to “consider taking a hit.”

Tax credits might be given to landlords if they are willing to give up rent.

“The interests of a few people should not outweigh the interests of the many,” he said. Elrich said small-business owners are the largest employers in the county.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer, said that of the 149 people who have tested positive for coronavirus disease in Maryland, 15 have been hospitalized.

Gayles said the cases have not shown any evidence of clusters.

Across the state, seven people who tested positive for the coronavirus have been cleared from quarantine. That includes the first three known cases in the state, all in Montgomery County.

Other patients in the county are at home recovering. One patient was hospitalized, but Gayles did not know if the patient was still in the hospital or at home.

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