Unhappy with Elrich’s COVID-19 response, council wants dozens more testing sites
Fire stations, libraries, churches could be used to expand from 3 sites to 35
Montgomery County’s first state-hosted drive-thru coronavirus testing site opened on April 7 at the vehicle emissions facility in White Oak.
Photo from Montgomery County
This story was updated at 1:27 p.m. on July 14, 2020, to clarify information about county testing with CDC assistance and to correct a phone number. It was updated again at 4:48 p.m. on July 14, 2020, to clarify pop-up testing goals.
Dissatisfied with Montgomery County’s current COVID-19 strategy, the County Council is considering creating dozens of new testing sites.
The plan under consideration includes boosting testing sites from the current three in the county to 35, using fire stations, libraries or churches.
On Tuesday, the County Council will act as the county’s Board of Health in discussing a potential requirement for an enhanced testing strategy. Council members have said they want more countywide testing that is free, without appointments or referrals from physicians.
On July 7, Council Members Hans Riemer and Gabe Albornoz wrote in a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich that the county is falling well short on COVID-19 testing and needs to boost testing access.
Council members have repeatedly called for more testing sites and better communication and accessibility, especially in communities of color and for residents who don’t speak English.
But Elrich and Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, both said a day later that the county’s testing strategy has been effective.
“We didn’t get to 120,000 tests without a plan,” Elrich said at the time.
Gayles said the “notion we don’t have a strategy is absolutely false.”
Riemer and Albornoz gave Elrich an ultimatum: Create and send a better plan for COVID-19 testing by this past Sunday, or the council will create one of its own.
Although they received a copy of the county’s testing plan around midnight at the end of Sunday, the council members decided to move ahead with proposing a Board of Health regulation anyway.
The regulation again calls on Elrich to present a plan for improvement, and gives him more time to share it. The proposed regulation says Elrich must “submit a full and detailed plan, including testing strategy for schools, employers and employees in various sectors, and vulnerable communities to the council by July 28.”
Elrich could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday morning.
The council’s proposal also includes a call for more communication about testing to residents, an online portal for scheduling tests, additional pop-up testing sites and a weekly report on testing that would be made public.
Albornoz told Bethesda Beat on Monday night that the fact the council received a written plan from Elrich was a sign of progress in their communication.
“We do need as aggressive a plan as we can possibly have. Frankly, we just needed a plan,” he said. “That was the first time we had seen in writing, since the beginning of the pandemic, what the plan was.”
A more strategic and nuanced approach is still needed with certain groups, such as Latino residents and people with developmental disabilities, Albornoz said.
“While every demographic is going down, the Hispanic community is not going down at the same rate [with test positivity] and that’s a problem,” he said.
Of the county residents who tested positive in June, 73% were Hispanic.
Riemer said Monday that the council has needed for a long time to see a written plan. What Elrich presented has meaningful elements in it, he said.
“I think sometimes you have to. … start a fire to get things to happen,” he said. “This is a very useful document for us to work from and we’ll take some time to harmonize everything.”
The plan, however, doesn’t include some things that Riemer and Albornoz would like to see, such as more testing sites.
According to the plan sent to the council, county officials plan to increase the number of testing sites from three to five.
Two additional sites would open at the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring and the Lakeforest Mall parking lot in Gaithersburg. These would be operated by the county with vehicles from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 400 appointments each day.
“I don’t think [their plan] achieves the aggressive approach we want, but at least we have a base to evaluate and insist on stronger measures,” Riemer said. “Five sites — I don’t think that’s enough.”
Riemer said the only reason he’s been given for why the county doesn’t have more testing sites is because expansion comes with a “logistical challenge.”
“Well, fine. But logistical challenges are easily solved by tackling them with your operations,” he said. “I can’t explain it. That’s been my concern. … We don’t want to be in a situation where people find it difficult to get a test.”
The county health department’s testing plan lays out targets including a long-term goal of expanding testing capacity until it reaches 20,000 people a week by September and 30,000 people a week by October.
Testing 20,000 people a week would meet the goal of testing 5% of the county’s population per month .
By July 12, at least 10% of the population in each of the top 10 ZIP codes were tested.
According to the council’s plan, testing progress would be internally tracked and weekly reports would be provided to Elrich and the council.
Testing sites would expand hours by at least four hours and the number of days they’re open from one or two to five to seven days a week. This expansion would include evening hours for some locations.
Pop-up testing sites are taking place in Takoma Park, Friendship Heights, Rockville and Silver Spring. Those sites are in the process of expanding capacity to 2,000 to 4,000 tests weekly.
Other testing initiatives for the future, according to the health department’s plan, include providing onsite testing for Montgomery Cares Clinic patients starting in late July and employer-based testing for large employers starting in August.
More than a week ago, the county’s phone line to schedule testing was down for a couple of days and caused a backlog of people unable to get tests, Albornoz said.
“That’s the kind of infrastructure that has to be right or we run the risk of missing many members of our community who want and need to get tested but can’t,” he said, adding that online scheduling should be prioritized.
Online registration is expected to be implemented, according to the county’s testing plan. Residents could still register through the phone or on-site.
There is no cost for receiving a test at a county testing site.
How to register for a test:
Phone: 240-777-1755 (open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day)
On-site: Registration forms will be available.
Testing is being offered to residents who think they might have been exposed to the virus or need a test for work requirements.
Testing sites can be found at:
● Germantown (20010 Century Blvd., parking garage behind Regal Theater): Mondays from 8 a.m. to Noon
● White Oak Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program site (2121 Industrial Pkwy.): Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon
● Wheaton, Montgomery County Parking Garage #45 (11304 Amherst Ave.): Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon
Upcoming pop-up testing sites:
● Silver Spring Civic Building (1 Veterans Plaza; parking available at Ellsworth Drive garage): July 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
● Takoma Park Recreation Center (7315 New Hampshire Ave.): July 16 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
● Silver Spring’s East County Recreation Center (3310 Gateshead Manor Drive): July 21 from 2 to 6 p.m.
● Olney’s Oakdale Church (3425 Emory Church Road): July 22 from 2 to 6 p.m.
Here are additional testing sites listed by Maryland officials:
● AllCare, Glen Echo: 7307 Macarthur Blvd.
● CVS Pharmacy: 7809 Wisconsin Ave.
● Kelly Goodman NP & Associates: 4701 Sangamore Road, Suite S207
● MedStar Health (Bethesda Tent): 7801 Democracy Blvd.
● Righttime Medical Care: 4507 Stanford St.
● CVS Pharmacy: 15600 Old Columbia Pike
● MedStar Chevy Chase Urgent Care: 5454 Wisconsin Ave., suite 401
● Fast Track Urgent Care: 13428 New Hampshire Ave.
● Righttime Medical Care: 882 Muddy Branch Road
● MedStar Gaithersburg Urgent Care: 12111 Darnestown Road
● CVS Pharmacy: 12215 Darnestown Road
● Righttime Medical Care: 19777 Frederick Road
● Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care: 19825 Frederick Road (no appointment required)
● CVS Pharmacy: 19901 Frederick Road
● Medical Access Urgent Care: 12321 Middlebrook Road (no appointment required)
● Ultracare Health Mart Pharmacy: 12619 Wisteria Drive, Suite A
● CVS Pharmacy: 12825 Wisteria Drive
● Parking lot near movie theater: 20010 Century Blvd.
● Righttime Medical Care: 18045 Georgia Ave.
● Righttime Medical Care: 350 Fortune Terrace
● CVS Pharmacy: 20 Upper Rock Circle
● CVS Pharmacy: 360 Hungerford Drive
● Patient First: 726 Rockville Pike
● Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care: 750 Rockville Pike (no appointment required)
● CVS Pharmacy: 799 Rockville Pike
● CVS Pharmacy: 1580 Rockville Pike
● Righttime Medical Care: 12220 Rockville Pike
● Righttime Medical Care: 20 University Blvd.
● Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care: 7600 Carroll Ave. (no appointment required)
● MedStar Wheaton Urgent Care: 11915 Georgia Ave.
● CVS Pharmacy: 11190 Veirs Mill Road
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at email@example.com.