Hogan: Appointment-Free COVID-19 Tests Start Thursday

A medical professional prepares to screen people last month at a COVID-19 testing station in the parking lot of FedEx Field in Landover. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said Tuesday that the state now has the capacity and supplies to offer testing for free to Marylanders who may have been exposed to COVID-19 — even if they do not exhibit any symptoms.

Beginning Thursday, testing sites across the state will be open to walk-ins — and they won’t need a doctor’s note recommending a COVID-19 test.

In a news release, the Hogan administration said it “has reached a critical milestone in its long-term COVID-19 testing strategy,” completing more than 200,000 tests representing about 3.5% of the state’s population.

Hogan has also issued an emergency order authorizing the state’s licensed pharmacists to directly order and administer COVID-19 tests. The order coincides with new federal guidelines expanding options to pay for pharmacists to offer COVID-19 tests for Medicare beneficiaries.

“Beginning this week, we are able to offer appointment-free COVID-19 testing across the state, including for those who do not have symptoms, marking a critical milestone in Maryland’s long-term testing strategy,” Hogan said in a statement. “This will help doctors diagnose and treat new cases more quickly, and it will further increase the safety of our state for all citizens.”

In Prince George’s County, where the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases are in Maryland, the county Health Department has been running a testing clinic in the parking lot of the Prince George’s Medical Center in Cheverly. The state is now adding community-based testing sites at VEIP stations in Clinton and Hyattsville.

Drive-thru, appointment-free testing will be available beginning on Thursday at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Baltimore County and continue on Friday at the Glen Burnie VEIP site in Anne Arundel County, as well as the Hyattsville VEIP station. Testing will become available at the Clinton VEIP site next week. People who suspect that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, even if they are not yet symptomatic, can access a test at one of these sites without a prior doctor’s order or a scheduled appointment. Testing will be provided at no out-of-pocket cost.

State officials say the expanded testing capacity in the state builds on testing efforts that began in late April at nursing homes and poultry plants, as well as for frontline health care workers and first responders at state facilities. Political leaders and public health experts have called adequate testing a critical component for governments to contemplate relaxing state-at-home orders and shutdowns of local economies.

Top officials in two large Maryland counties said Tuesday that Hogan’s announcement caught them by surprise.
Among the questions they were scrambling to answer late Tuesday: who will staff the testing centers, what test kits will the centers use, who will provide crowd and traffic control, who will process the tests, and who will relay test results back to residents.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the state is responsible for the new testing sites, and “will manage them with local health departments, where applicable.” The National Guard, he said, helps to manage crowd flow at the testing sites.
In a statement provided to Maryland Matters Tuesday, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), who has pleaded for more testing capacity, said she was “appreciative that the Governor heard my concerns” and said Prince George’s officials “welcome the new testing sites.”
“To this point our Health Department had only received 160 tests from the state, which added additional urgency to our request,” Alsobrooks continued. “We will continue to need other items like PPE, contact tracers and the other resources the state has committed to provide, which are required to meet its metrics for reopening.”
State health officials on Tuesday morning reported 1,784 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 41,546. The state has reported 1,963 deaths from the virus so far, with COVID-19 suspected in another 118 deaths.
As of Tuesday morning, Maryland hospitals were treating 1,421 COVID-19 patients — 537 of whom were in intensive care units.

More information on COVID-19 testing in Maryland is available at https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/symptoms-testing.

Bruce DePuyt contributed to this report.

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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.