As the U.S. comes to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic, increased testing has shed a light on the spread of the virus.
In Anne Arundel County, testing is expected to ramp up in coming days as county health leaders get ready to implement drive-through testing, as well as direct testing inside what the county’s health officer called “congregant sites.” The plans were announced during an online town hall about coronavirus on Saturday by county executive Steuart Pittman.
“We’re working with MDH [Maryland Health Department] and our hospital partners to standup drive through testing sites,” said Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman. “With the hope that this week we’ll have at least one drive-through testing site this week in the county.”
Kalyanaraman then spoke about the county’s vulnerable population who live in “congregant sites,” such as senior and nursing homes, as well as those who are homeless and living in encampments.
“Having people congregated together is not a good idea in the time of a pandemic,” said Kalyanaraman. He said the county will be working with homeless care providers and other county agencies to increase housing for the homeless and put them in as many individual units as possible.
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As for those living in nursing homes, treatment facilities and assisted living homes, he said beginning today the county has set up what he called a “strike team.”
This new team can rapidly respond to “any one of these facilities, test somebody who has symptoms consistent with COVID and then provide isolation and quarantine, advice and solutions for those congregant housing facilities so that we can address those needs as they are happening and not wait for an outbreak.”
Once the county is able to ramp up testing, Dr. Kalyanaraman says the drive-through site will be similar to picking up dinner from a fast food restaurant, with the person being tested not even having to get out of their car. They’ll be required to have an order from either their doctor or the county health department ahead of time, though.
The priority will obviously be on those with more severe symptoms, with the focus in particular on those with persistent shortness of breath and fevers that last for 72 hours.
“What we’re finding is that shortness of breath is probably the most specific to COVID-19,” said Kalyanaraman.
“If you think about cold symptoms those are more along the lines of sneezing and runny nose,” Kalyanaraman continued. “Trying to distinguish between whether you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19 is really hard and a lot of people are struggling with that. And we’re struggling with that in the healthcare system.”
But later during the town hall he also stressed “not everything that is cough, fever, shortness of breath is COVID-19,” said Kalyanraman. “It is still flu season and so we do want to make that assessment as much as we can by phone before asking you to travel” for a test.