2021 | Coronavirus

Tens of thousands of people scoop up take-home coronavirus test kits in first week

Officials expect to have more limited test distribution at sites next week due to demand

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Library staff and volunteers distributed 1,800 take-home coronavirus rapid test kits at Silver Spring's library Friday. Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said about 35,000 kits have been distributed to libraries every day since Monday.

Photo By Steve Bohnel

At the Silver Spring Library on Friday morning, dozens of people streamed in and out of its Thayer Avenue entrance, picking up take-home coronavirus rapid test kits. 

There wasn’t a line out the door, as there was earlier in the week, but demand was so high for the kits that the library ran out of 1,800 by 11:45 a.m. — 45 minutes after distribution started. 

Such was the scene at multiple library branches throughout Montgomery County this week, as residents began obtaining rapid tests on Monday. 

Leroy Simon, a library desk assistant at the Silver Spring branch, said demand was steady at the location since Monday. The library distributed more than 3,000 kits — with two tests in each kit — on Monday, 2,400 on Tuesday and 1,800 each day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Simon said the library has gotten a lot of calls about test kits. People have been cordial and cooperative as they’ve stopped in and picked up kits for themselves, family and friends.

“The volunteers and staff are happy to assist and do our civic duty and help our community,” Simon said. 

Marcia Gaysue, a Silver Spring resident, said after she picked up her kits on Friday that she previously tried to get some earlier in the week, but the library was out when she arrived. 

Gaysue joked that it took her longer to get fully dressed and walk over than it did to pick up the tests. She said she was glad they were available, because she’s heard from friends in Phoenix who have had a difficult time finding rapid tests. 

It’s good to have tests on hand, even for people who may be asymptomatic, Gaysue added.

County’s plans for further distribution of kits

County officials hope to have enough kits to continue distribution at the same library sites through the next two weeks. 

Simon said the Silver Spring branch would likely have shorter hours for distribution beginning next week, from noon to 2 p.m., along with other branches.

Other locations would offer hours from around 5 to 7 p.m., he said.

Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard confirmed in an interview that the hours at branches next week will be narrowed to two-hour windows because of overall demand at libraries systemwide. 

About 35,000 kits have been distributed daily at all branches, Stoddard said.

Stoddard posted on Twitter on Thursday evening that a little more than 202,000 kits had been distributed so far. That put the county on track to distribute roughly 237,000 by the end of Friday. 

Other kits are going to public schools, child care providers, and other community partners, Stoddard noted. The biggest challenge, he said, is the uncertainty of when deliveries will arrive from the vendor.

If the county receives its scheduled delivery over the weekend, it can continue its operations at libraries at about the same volume through Jan. 22, Stoddard said. 

County officials are also looking at widening distribution to sites that would better serve older residents and those with disabilities, who aren’t as able to wait in long lines at library sites, Stoddard said. He said details on those sites and possible other effects on schedules and system capacity will be shared in the coming days.

Stoddard admitted that county officials are operating on an honor system in verifying residents’ addresses in the county, and in asking people not to hoard the kits. Library employees were not asking for people’s IDs at the Silver Spring branch on Friday.

Stoddard said that requiring identification might discourage non-native populations to get kits.  

“We don’t want to create a system that is automatically going to discourage certain parts of our population from wanting to participate,” Stoddard said. “So we’ve decided, yes, there will be some issues with people coming multiple times. We’re encouraging people not to come multiple times, and we’re changing our messaging to focus on: two per person, per day, as opposed to two per person, per visit.” 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com