Prince George’s Co. says some people wrongly denied COVID retests

'I think that we should have been more forthcoming' (Prince George's Co. Council member Deni Tavares)

Prince George’s County Council member Deni Tavares didn’t feel well. She wasn’t sure if it was just a simple cold or the coronavirus — but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

When Tavares tried to get a COVID-19 test earlier this week at a county-run site in Chillum, Maryland, which is part of her district, she was turned away because, she was told, she had already been tested once before.

Tavares said despite exhibiting symptoms, she was told she couldn’t get another test.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m upset,” Tavares said.

In a statement to WTOP, the Prince George’s County Health Department acknowledged it is limiting tests at county-run testing sites to one per person, but that people who exhibit symptoms, such as Tavares, shouldn’t be turned away.

“It has come to our attention that some patients seeking another COVID-19 test at some of our site have been turned away,” Prince George’s County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said in the statement. “People can be retested if they are symptomatic, have a known or suspected exposure to a positive case, or are part of a county contact tracing case investigation and were directed to be tested.”

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The county said it is retraining workers at its testing sites.

Tavares said the fact that there’s so much confusion is a big problem, especially in her district, which she called “the epicenter” for COVID-19 in this region.

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” she said, after giving accounts from other people in her district who have also been turned away from testing, despite meeting the criteria that’s supposed to allow them to get retested.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m very frustrated at the fact that we’ve even had to beg for every little thing that we’ve had within my district,” Tavares said. “We’ve barely just gotten testing (in my district) at the end of June, when we were peaking in April.”

“I think that the fact that we’re being disproportionately affected, we need to make sure that, as a community, we are serving everyone,” she added.

The statement from the county health officer said, in part: “The Health Department must be mindful of its testing supply on a daily basis; the County operates and supplies testing equipment to as many as seven testing sites each week that are free to the public regardless of insurance and do not require appointments.”

The state of Maryland said there is no limit to the number of times someone can be tested at its sites, but Tavares also found fault with the governor’s office for moving the state-run site further away from the Hyattsville area, where cases exploded, and setting it up at Six Flags in Bowie.

Tavares said, “It’s a huge problem … You’re asking the most vulnerable of vulnerable populations, who are forced to work in the front lines because of whatever they’ve got to do to survive … the least people who are able to pay are the ones who are being forced to” either go outside the county for a test, or pay for one themselves.

Regarding people who were erroneously turned away from retests, even though they had symptoms or otherwise met the criteria, the health department statement went on to say that the department “regularly retrains its ever-shifting number of available clinical staff and volunteer test site workers about the latest testing and operations guidance, which like this pandemic, has changed shape and size many times. When we learn about errors occurring, we will correct them immediately.”

Still, Tavares remained exasperated and let down. “If it happened to me, I can just imagine how somebody with no political voice would feel,” she added.

As for Tavares’ health, she said she is hopeful she just got a cold.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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