Health officials plan larger testing sites in Montgomery County

Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention

Montgomery County health officials are looking to expand coronavirus testing in the coming weeks via mass testing sites across the county, as the omicron variant of the virus increases the number of cases.

County council member Will Jawando said in a meeting on Tuesday that officials should consider not only expanding mass testing to the Germantown campus of Montgomery College, but also to other sites in the county.

James Bridgers, the acting county health officer, said health officials are also considering Service consolidation centers – where food and other resources are offered to the community – to get up for testing.

Mark Hodge, the acting senior administrator of school health services at the county health and social services department, told county council that with luck there are three hub sites that could host testing soon.

In an interview, Hodge did not indicate the three locations where testing could take place, as health officials need to confirm that the locations can handle large-scale testing, he said. He told Tuesday’s meeting that small facilities, such as a small church, would likely not be able to perform tests.

The hubs act as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for food distribution and general social services for county residents in various parts of the county, he said.

Hodge said several factors determine whether a hub site can be used, including:

  • Enough space to serve people, while allowing them to be physically distanced
  • Sufficient parking
  • Sufficient ventilation
  • Accessibility for pedestrians or other forms of transport

Hodge said the main challenge is recruiting staff to run test sites at the hubs. When schools were closed, school nurses, health technicians and others could perform tests throughout the county, but they are no longer available.

The county, however, has partnerships with healthcare providers who can help fill that void, provided they have staff, Hodge said.

“From my perspective, we can put them in place pretty quickly, we have the contractors to staff them, we have the buildings at the hubs to do it,” Hodge said.

The locations could be open in about a week, he said.

Test sites could expand outside of the first three hub locations, if there are enough staff, he said. The cost hasn’t been the issue, but rather the number of people who can run and run a test site, Hodge added.

Deputy CEO Earl Stoddard said in Tuesday’s meeting that county officials will also increase test availability by distributing rapid take-out tests to county-wide community locations, such as libraries or similar facilities.

Previously, health officials had said a lack of supply of take-home rapid tests prevented the county from trying the approach, which Washington, DC and other jurisdictions have used. Montgomery County hopes to receive nearly 200,000 of these tests by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, which will be distributed to public schools and community gathering places.

The county hopes to receive hundreds of thousands of additional tests, beyond the initial group of nearly 200,000, in the coming week, officials said on Tuesday.

Steve Bohnel can be contacted at [email protected]

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