2022 | Opinion

Opinion: COVID-19 test distribution is an example of government operating as it should

Residents picked up tens of thousands of kits through local libraries

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The point of government is to help people.

In Montgomery County, this principle is often muddled. Too regularly, our interactions with local government are defined by bureaucracy, paperwork, and headaches. Who works for whom seems jumbled. In turn, people lose faith in the institutions they fund.

This month’s excellently executed distribution of COVID-19 rapid tests at local libraries, however, shows us what county services can and should be — people-focused, efficient, and simple.

Everyone involved in pulling off this demonstration of good government deserves props, and it should serve as a model moving forward.

The county’s rapid test distribution responded to a critical community demand: People needed tests and it wasn’t easy or cheap to get them.

Accessible, convenient testing is critical to triumphing over this wave of the pandemic. Keeping schools, child care centers, workplaces, and other areas of public life open requires people to know if they’re infectious before they potentially spread the virus to others.

Plus, with confusing guidance from the CDC on the length of isolation periods, antigen tests are a helpful tool for knowing when it’s fully safe to leave quarantine.

So our county government responded. Across 19 libraries in every corner of the county, the staff and volunteers passed out tens of thousands of rapid tests to the community.

At many libraries, people arrived early and formed long lines, no doubt expecting the test distribution to resemble the kind of agonizingly slow process familiar to anyone who has stood in lines at PCR testing sites, at the county courthouse, or for any other county service.

But to the “shock and amazement” of community members, the lines moved “at lightning speed.” People walked in, were handed tests, and walked out. One woman joked that it took longer to get dressed and walk over than to get in and out of the library with the tests.

There was no confusing paperwork to fill out or complicated appointment website to navigate. There was only the county government leveraging its power and resources to give people something they need, wish them well, and send them on their way.

In a time when there is so much to rightfully be furious about, we should recognize and commend our government when it works.

The test distribution was pulled off by diligent public servants working together in the county executive’s office, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, and the public library system. It was made possible by taxpayers who have invested for decades in local public goods like our libraries.

And it was carried out by hardworking librarians, community volunteers, and many elected leaders, who rolled up their sleeves and came out to help.

The test distribution at libraries was just one part of the county’s plan to get more than 792,000 rapid tests in people’s hands, including through schools.

Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight and MCPS also deserve serious props for quietly ensuring that more than 240,000 of those tests made it home with students, providing critical testing capacity to those who might not have heard or been able to make it out to libraries to pick up a test.

The test distribution shows us a model of how our community’s leaders should leverage all this county has to offer.

We have a robust network of public libraries that can continue to be used in the future to offer far more than books and computers. We have an incredible community of people who care about their neighbors and who are willing to spend a few hours helping them. We have the fiscal resources to directly give people what they need.

Even more broadly, the test distribution models how Montgomery County should approach all work with the community. All services should strive to be so efficient and straightforward and lacking in complicated forms, processes, or procedures.

And, as with the testing distribution, county services should be multi-pronged to meet people where they are — at libraries, schools, day cares, or other community hubs.

Montgomery County has what it takes to make every interaction with government easy, simple, and hassle-free. It should do so more often.

Rising Voices is an occasional column by Nate Tinbite, a John F. Kennedy High School graduate; Ananya Tadikonda, a Richard Montgomery High School graduate; and Matt Post, a Sherwood High School graduate. All three are recent student members of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

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