State Secures Kits for 500,000 COVID-19 Tests From South Korea

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and first lady Yumi Hogan on the tarmac at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport on Saturday, when the first-ever Korean Air flight landed in Maryland with kits to perform COVID-19 tests. Photo from the governor's Twitter page.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said Monday that Maryland has secured 5,000 COVID-19 testing kits from a South Korean company.

The 5,000 kits from LabGenomics can be used to conduct 500,000 tests for the coronavirus in Maryland, Hogan said at a news conference in front of Government House, the governor’s residence.

Hogan met a Korean Air supply plane at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport on Saturday, which delivered the kits to the state. It was the first-ever Korean Air flight to land at BWI.

“This weekend, we took an exponential, game-changing step forward” in the state’s battle to eradicate the coronavirus, Hogan said.

The governor said the state spent “22 straight days” negotiating directly with the company and the South Korean government, with Korean-born first lady Yumi Hogan participating in many of the discussions and offering translation. Eight state agencies were involved and were conferring regularly with the federal government, he said.

“We made a personal plea in Korean, asking for their assistance,” Hogan said.

Like a federal military campaign, Maryland officials gave the project a name: Operation Enduring Friendship.

The state is paying $9 million for the testing kits, which Hogan called “a worthwhile investment.”

While the governor acknowledged it will take some time for the tests to be fully operational, he said the new kits will enable Maryland to have a larger testing capacity than four of the five states that have conducted the highest number of COVID-19 tests. The bolstered testing capacity will help the state move closer to its goal of reopening the economy at the first possible opportunity.

“It removes the most serious obstacle to safely reopening our states,” he said.

Although they did not speak, Hogan was joined at the news conference by Hong Seok-in, the director for Public Diplomacy at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and by Yumi Hogan, who has been a bridge between the governor and Korean business leaders who have supported him throughout his political career. Earlier this year, the South Korean ambassador to the U.S., Lee Soo Hyuck, arranged with Yumi Hogan to host a reception in Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association, which Hogan heads.

Although the Trump administration has insisted that there is an adequate number of testing kits available around the country, many governors, including Hogan, have disagreed. Hogan is among the governors who have argued that the lack of testing will be an impediment to states as they attempt to reopen their shuttered economies.

President Trump opened his daily briefing on the federal response to the coronavirus Monday by blasting Hogan for going to Korea to get testing supplies, saying the governor fundamentally did not understand the federal government’s testing capabilities.

Hogan pushed back during a CNN interview Monday evening.

“I have a pretty good understanding of what’s going on,” he said.

As of Monday morning, Maryland health officials reported that 71,397 COVID-19 tests have been conducted since the outbreak of the pandemic. The state has recorded 13,684 positive cases, and at least 582 deaths have been attributed to the outbreak of the virus.

News of the Korean testing kits was first reported Monday in The New York Times and confirmed around midday on Twitter by Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman. Ricci said the deal with LabGenomics went down “after weeks of diplomatic discussions and procurement efforts.”

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.