U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) called for more transparency Monday surrounding the deployment of COVID-19 test kits secured from South Korea in April, expressing concern about Maryland’s ability to track the virus as social distancing orders are lifted.
Brown is particularly worried about the ability to test in the state’s most vulnerable areas, including Prince George’s County, in his district — which reportedly has yet to receive more than 90,000 tests requested from the state.
“These tests are already in high demand, with Maryland’s nursing homes asking for universal testing on all of their residents and staff and localities — especially in hard-hit jurisdictions like Prince George’s — wanting to increase capacity at drive-thru testing centers and health care sites,” wrote Brown in a letter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R).
In a letter sent on April 24, Brown asked the Hogan administration a series of questions surrounding the state’s testing capability, pointing to the 5,000 test kits secured by the governor from South Korea last month.
These kits give Maryland the capacity to complete 500,000 COVID-19 tests.
The congressman’s letter asked if the state has the resources to successfully complete all of the tests now in its possession, how and where the governor plans to deploy the test kits and if they have been “validated,” among other questions.
“I am concerned that even with these new test-kits whether Maryland has sufficient swabs, viral transport media, and reagents to collect and process samples from significantly more residents in the coming weeks,” Brown wrote, pointing to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to loosen restrictions, allowing test administrators to use more easily accessed materials to meet the country’s growing demand.
Brown revealed Monday that he has yet to receive answers from the governor.
Any criticism of Hogan from Brown is freighted with political implications. The two ran against each other for governor in 2014, and Hogan scored political points by focusing on Brown’s role overseeing the initially balky website for the state’s fledgling health care exchange.
Maryland Matters reached out to the Hogan administration for comment in response to Brown’s letter.
“We appreciate all the letters we receive from Congressman Brown,” wrote Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci in an email. “As he may know, the governor announced an expanded testing strategy on April 29, and it is being implemented, including expanded testing for nursing homes, poultry plant outbreaks, health care workers and first responders, expanded drive-thru sites.”
Additionally, Ricci offered answers to Brown’s questions, saying that Maryland labs running the tests obtained from South Korea have all of the necessary components to complete them; that all of the tests have been validated; and that the kits are being distributed at poultry plants, drive-thru testing sites and nursing homes statewide.
Eldercare facilities in the state have proven to be particularly vulnerable to the virus. As of Monday, 50% of the state’s reported COVID-19 deaths were nursing home residents.
Just over a week after announcing the deal with South Korea, Hogan issued an executive order calling for universal testing in the state’s nursing homes. The same day, he announced at a news conference that a portion of the test kits coming out of South Korea would be deployed at nursing homes.
In a Monday news release, Brown pointed to difficulties seen by eldercare facilities who “continue to report” delays in testing.
At a State House news conference last week, Hogan said that the state isn’t “just handing out tests,” and that universal testing in nursing homes will “not be done overnight.”
The governor explained that testing will be delivered first at “the hottest ones with the biggest problems” before the state begins to move down to less noticeably vulnerable senior care facilities.