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Commentary COVID-19 in Maryland Health Care

Opinion: Don’t Rush to Reopen Until Testing Is Available

Photo courtesy Maryland Nonprofits

Coronavirus is no less contagious today than it was yesterday. COVID-19 is no less deadly now that we have a “safer-at-home advisory” instead of a stay-at-home order. Now is not the time to rush to reopen our organizations just because it is not prohibited.

Let’s be clear: The governor’s Roadmap to Recovery states that we need to continue to wear face masks, practice physical distancing, and employers should continue telework plans for the “foreseeable future” as long as there is no effective treatment or vaccine.

The choices we make now can have a tremendous impact on the health and safety of our community. Let’s take a look at the people our decisions will impact.

In Maryland, Hispanic people are contracting COVID-19 at five times the rate of white people, and African-American/black people at 2.5 times higher and constitute the largest number of any race who have tested positive. These communities as well as low-income white people are more likely to be working in jobs outside the home and exposed to far higher risks of contracting the virus.

Due to pre-existing inequities, people of color and low-income people are also more likely to have underlying health conditions and lack health care coverage, causing their exposure to be more deadly.

It’s probably not too far off to speculate that most of the people who are making decisions about reopening workplaces, like me, are white people in management positions working safely from home, while our decisions affect the health and safety of people more vulnerable to COVID-19 than we are. It is our moral obligation to put the health and safety of vulnerable people above the decisions that affect our bottom line.

We at Maryland Nonprofits are following the guidelines set out by Johns Hopkins to be considered before opening the economy:

  • The number of new cases has declined for at least 14 days
  • Rapid diagnostic testing capacity is sufficient to test, at minimum, all people with COVID-19 symptoms, as well as close contacts and those in essential roles
  • The health care system is able to safely care for all patients, including having appropriate personal protective equipment for health care workers
  • There is sufficient public health capacity to conduct contact tracing for all new cases and their close contacts

Maryland’s health system is working hard but has not yet met all of these criteria, and the one that is the most urgent is the need for testing.

Heather Iliff

Our president stated testing is “overrated” and there seems to be a general lack of understanding that testing and contact tracing are the fundamental building blocks of keeping workplaces safe. From the perspective of nonprofit organizations that represent 12.9% of private sector employment, our workers are still being put on the front line without adequate safety protocols in place.

Maryland has not even been able to test all the residents and staff of nursing homes where the number of COVID-19 deaths have been devastating. Screening testing is not available for the residents and staff of residential homes for foster youth, mental health treatment centers, homeless shelters, programs and residences for people with disabilities, prisons or detention centers. We have children who are in need of foster home placements but are stuck because they can’t get a test that is needed to assure the safety of the foster family.

If we had widespread testing and contact tracing available, nonprofit programs could open their doors safely when all participants and staff tested negative, while still maintaining PPE and physical distancing. We could open summer camps, child care and day programs if these testing and contact tracing protocols were in place. Sadly, that is not yet the case.

We all need to support – through our donations and our personal decisions around remaining at home, masked and physical distancing – the nonprofits who are on the front lines of the health and economic crises our communities face.

Nonprofits directly serving people in need with food, shelter, health care and residential services have continued operations throughout this crisis and need our help. Many organizations have been able to innovate significantly, expanding the number of people they are serving through online platforms. We need to raise our voices for meeting all four safety criteria, especially widespread access to testing, before we can reopen safely.

Let’s turn to a new future that truly values lives and healthy communities.


The writer is president and CEO of Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Maryland Nonprofits is the voice of the nonprofit community with more than 1,000 member nonprofits/charities statewide. She can be reached at [email protected].

Maryland Nonprofits‘ new public awareness campaign urging Marylanders to be #HealthyTogether for a #SafeReopen has been joined by the following member nonprofits:

  • Partners in Care
  • NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore
  • Strong City Baltimore; The Adult Learning Center; The Club at Collington
  • Maryland Public Health Association
  • Wellness House of Annapolis
  • Talbot Mentors
  • Adoptions Together
  • The International Association of Black Triathletes
  • Prince George’s Child Resource Center Inc.
  • Accessible Resources for Independence
  • Parks & People Foundation
  • Cromwell Valley Park Council

Click here to find out how you can help Maryland be #HealthyTogether #SafeReopen.

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Opinion: Don’t Rush to Reopen Until Testing Is Available