Frustrated by the Trump administration’s lack of progress in developing COVID-19 testing, as well as the president’s claims of broad availability of coronavirus testing, Maryland’s Larry Hogan and other governors spoke out over the weekend.
“It’s not accurate to say there’s plenty of testing out there, and the governors should just get it done,” Hogan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “That’s just not being straightforward.”
Hogan added that it was “absolutely false” to claim that governors were not acting aggressively enough to pursue as much testing as possible.
At a press conference Monday afternoon in Annapolis, Hogan announced that the state had secured 5,000 test kits from South Korea—which officials said would give Maryland the ability to perform 500,000 new coronavirus tests. The Korean Air flight arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Saturday, Hogan said, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other agencies signed off on the plan and shipment.
To date, Maryland has conducted more than 71,000 tests for the novel coronavirus. Nearly 14,000 confirmed infections have been recorded in the state, including more than 854 confirmed new cases in the last 24 hours. More than 3,000 people have been hospitalized in the state so far because of the COVID-19 virus. There are also now more than 500 confirmed deaths in Maryland from the virus and almost 70 other probable deaths.
The South Korean coronavirus tests come from a company based there called LabGenomics at a cost of $9 million to Maryland. In his remarks, Hogan said it was a small amount for the state to pay, relative to an estimated $2.8 billion in lost revenues as the state remains largely shut down in an effort to contain the virus.
Hogan also said that the shipment does not mean that Maryland suddenly has the ability to perform 500,000 tests. “We don’t have everything [else] we need,” Hogan said, noting a shortage of lab equipment, as well as the swabs and chemical re-agents required to successfully perform the tests. “Some [of those things] have been acquired. It will take time to ramp up everything we need to utilize all of the tests.”
Hogan said that is Korean-born wife, Yumi Hogan, was involved in getting the negotiation process started, adding that his team had been at work since late March on the effort he nicknamed, “Operation Enduring Friendship.” It was the first-ever direct freight flight from Incheon Airport to BWI. Yumi Hogan is the first Korean-American first lady of any state and the first Asian-American first lady in Maryland.
The new tests will indicate whether an individual currently is infected with the virus. Other equally important tests that indicate whether a person has had the coronavirus and successfully recovered—and is therefore protected by anti-bodies against further infection—remain elusive. A vaccine for COVID-19 likely remains many months away.
Last week, Hogan announced Maryland schools will remain closed through May 15. Most states, including Ohio, have already said they will not reopen this year.
Hogan has stressed that adequate availability testing is critical to reopening the state and the Maryland economy. He said last Friday that the state would not reopen until it at least triples daily testing capacity, greater hospital capacity is in place, adequate levels of personal protective equipment is on hand for frontline health care workers, and the state is able to deploy sufficient numbers of contact-tracing workers to track and help isolate newly infected patients.
On Saturday, at least 200 protestors in Annapolis caravanned around State Circle, demanding the governor lift restrictions on public gatherings and reopen Maryland businesses. That same morning, the capital region recorded 73 additional new deaths, pushing the number fatalities to close to 1,000 in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. Similar protests, encouraged by President Trump on Twitter, have been taking place around the country and continued Monday with more than 2,000 demonstrators at the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg.
Prince George’s and Montgomery counties lead the state in coronavirus cases, with 3,583 and 2,647 cases, respectively. Baltimore County has reported 1,875 cases and Baltimore City—1,511. African-Americans continue to make up the largest racial/ethnic group in terms of COVID-19 deaths in the state. By zip code, the area with the greatest total—269 cases of coronavirus—is in the in 21215, which includes parts of northwest Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The zip code includes the FutureCare Lochearn nursing home where at least 170 people, 129 residents and 41 staffers, have been confirmed with the virus, according to reporting from WBAL-TV.
Former Baltimore City health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, a leading public health expert, essentially agreed with Hogan last week, stating the U.S. still needs a national coordinated effort to secure personal protection equipment for healthcare workers, ramp up testing, and build public health infrastructure before it’s safe to fully reopen the economy.
“But it seems we are doing this backwards because we shouldn’t be talking about a timeline as much as we should be talking about metrics and capabilities, including the number of tests that can be made widely available [and] the public health infrastructure needed to able to identity individuals who test positive and trace their contacts,” Wen told CNN. “And the healthcare infrastructure overall to be able to treat people and not be rationing resources all the time. We are nowhere near having these capabilities in place.”