Maryland will begin universal COVID-19 testing at its prisons and juvenile detention centers, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced Wednesday.
“Our state continues to make significant progress on all four of the necessary building blocks for our recovery, including on our long-term strategy to dramatically expand testing for COVID-19 across the state,” the governor said in a statement.
The announcement comes two days after the sixth Maryland inmate died from COVID-19. On Tuesday, Hogan said the state would offer appointment-free testing, to asymptomatic individuals who have been exposed; critics said testing in Maryland has been insufficient.
Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) said Wednesday that appointment-free drive-through testing will be available at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Sufficient access to testing is a critical factor in being able to safely reopen our economy, but Maryland has lagged behind other states in testing,” Olszewski said in a statement. “The availability of appointment-free testing is an important expansion of capacity, both here in Baltimore County and statewide.”
Maryland will soon offer these services at no out-of-pocket cost at its drive-through testing sites in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, according to a Wednesday news release from the governor’s office.
Hogan issued an executive order Tuesday to allow pharmacies to administer tests, as well. Doctor’s orders are not required for any of the COVID-19 tests.
On Monday, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender called for the state to apply universal testing to its Department of Juvenile Services facilities following a report that 26 youths and 15 adults from one of its private service providers were infected.
“Particularly as counties within the state start to reopen, stemming the COVID-19 pandemic in correctional and juvenile facilities is an urgent public health concern and universal testing is an important measure – along with population reduction, preventative efforts, and treatment access – to minimizing transmissions and reducing the fatality rate,” said Paul DeWolfe, Maryland Public Defender, in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“We are hopeful that testing information will be used for improved decision-making regarding housing, staffing, and health care needs; increased access to treatment for those who need it; and reduced reliance on isolation for those who do not pose a health risk.”
The Department of Juvenile Services is reporting no active cases among youth held at its state-run facilities at this time. Nine staff members are actively positive.
Asked when testing in youth correctional facilities would begin, agency spokesman Eric Solomon said in a statement Wednesday, “The Department has begun working with the Maryland Department of Health on universal testing for all staff and youth in DJS facilities. A daily snapshot of positive and recovered cases can be found on the Department’s website.
“As this situation evolves in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to adjust our operations based on the best advice of health professionals to confront this fast-moving virus and keep our youth and staff safe.”
As of Monday, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services reported 335 confirmed cases among inmates, correctional officers and department staff. Six inmates have died of COVID-19 since April, including one man held at Central Maryland Correctional Facility who died at Carroll Hospital Tuesday.
Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said they are working with the Department of Health “on parameters and next steps in the roll-out of universal testing.”
Prisoners’ rights advocates and unionized state workers have been calling for universal testing in state facilities for weeks.
Tuesday afternoon, a caravan of AFSCME Council 3 members drove through the streets of Baltimore City in an appeal for the Board of Public Works to increase their access to personal protective equipment and expand testing to all who enter the state’s 24/7 care facilities, among other asks.
“AFSCME members action produces Governors reaction,” said AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran in a statement Wednesday. “We are happy that our campaign for health and safety at public facilities is winning results.”
Moran added that the governor’s announcement “contradicts” talks the union had with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Wednesday morning about the potential for “limited tests” of correctional officers.
“We hope what is in the press release is true. We have waited for proper PPE and testing throughout the pandemic for close to three months,” said Moran. “There have been many promises made and since broken. All front-line workers deserve to be safe on the job.”
Moran and other AFSCME members have been asking where the 5,000 test kits Hogan secured from South Korea one month ago have been deployed.
The kits are purported to give the state the ability to complete 500,000 COVID-19 tests.
At a news conference held in late April, Hogan announced that some of these kits would be used at hotspots around the state, including poultry plants and nursing homes — both of which he said are also to be universally tested.
At a May 6 meeting of the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup, Joseph DeMattos Jr., the president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, explained to lawmakers that eldercare facilities were having difficulties accessing tests.
At a news conference held the same day, Hogan explained that the state would begin handing tests out to facilities who have seen the greatest rate of infection, adding that universal testing of nursing homes will “not be done overnight.”
The governor’s office announced Wednesday that up to 3,000 COVID-19 tests are being delivered to eldercare facilities across the state daily, equaling more than 20,000 tests delivered per week. According to a news release, tests are expected to have been distributed to all eldercare facilities in the state before the end of the month.
Additionally, 33,000 swabs and 2,000 tubes of viral transport media are to be deployed to counties to help supplement their dwindling supplies, and the Maryland Department of Health has been ordered to distribute 10,000 tests weekly to local jurisdictions — including up to 6,000 tests to county health departments — in an effort to ramp-up local testing efforts.
Last week, Hogan took steps to initiate phase one of the state’s reopening plan, allowing many retail and religious venues to reinstate their services at a limited capacity.
While some jurisdictions have taken advantage, decision-makers from the state’s largest counties have said that because the virus is still at large, they aren’t ready to make the same moves.
After the governor’s announcement, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said that her county still needs support from the state in accessing adequate resources to meet Hogan’s metrics for reopening, including expanded test capacity.
As of Wednesday morning, 29% of the state’s total cases and 22% of its total deaths were confirmed in Prince George’s County, which makes up 15% of the state’s population.
Some of Hogan’s critics have called his decision to initiate reopening “reckless.”
“Shifting the burden to local leaders on reopening has left many jurisdictions grasping for adequate testing or PPE needed to protect their residents. We cannot hope to safely reopen if our counties do not have what they need to track and contain this virus,” said U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D) in a statement Wednesday. “The reckless rush to reopen without a plan in place to ramp up testing and distribute critical supplies in areas of greatest need risks the lives of Marylanders and risks inflicting more pain and suffering on families. As One Maryland, we must do better.”