Montgomery Co. expands rapid coronavirus test access, DC lawmaker calls for targeted roll out plan

Montgomery County, Maryland, is the latest D.C. region jurisdiction to offer free rapid, at-home coronavirus test kits, announcing plans this week to provide the tests for targeted groups.

The county said it has identified groups who either have an increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19 or little access to testing sites because of their jobs, like food service or construction workers. People who live in areas with lower vaccination rates or have limited testing access because of transportation or work hours will also be targeted.

Montgomery County received 10,000 test kits, which have been distributed at county-operated testing centers, in November. With the help of local organizations, it started providing tests to some groups Monday.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we are working hard to make sure the test kits are available to residents who live in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 illness and deaths, as well as workers who regularly interact with large numbers of people in the community, some who are not vaccinated,” said County Executive Marc Elrich in a statement.

The announcement comes as neighboring jurisdictions have launched programs to make the tests readily available. At-home tests are available at libraries in Fairfax County and Alexandria in Virginia, and Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland. Those programs have been popular, with demand exceeding supply, officials said last week.

Health experts said the at-home tests can help curb spread, yielding positive results when someone is most contagious.

Elsewhere, D.C. Council member Christina Henderson sent a letter to City Administrator Kevin Donahue on Monday, urging city officials to develop a plan to utilize its supply of the rapid tests.

During a weekly call between the council and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration officials Friday, the city said it had 20,000 rapid antigen tests available.

Henderson told WTOP that DC Health has placed an order for another 51,000.

Henderson wrote that the city should offer the tests to D.C. students in Wards 5, 7 and 8, making them available to pick up at libraries and recreation centers. The availability of rapid tests should make family holiday gatherings safer, Henderson said.

Donahue’s spokeswoman said the city administrator’s office is still reviewing the letter.

“We’re trying to think through how can we better protect our students and our families heading into the holiday break, where they’re going to be seeing extended family members, doing some travel, just seeing more people outside of their original bubble,” Henderson said.

DC Health currently offers take-home PCR coronavirus tests at libraries and has testing sites throughout the city, but rapid tests produce results in 15 minutes.

The city hasn’t said how it plans to utilize its current supply of rapid tests, Henderson said. She recommended focusing on areas of the city with low vaccine uptake and in which some schools have seen clusters of cases.

As of Tuesday night, D.C. reported a 189.4 per 100,000 people weekly case rate, with 4.3% of coronavirus cases requiring hospitalization, a seven-day trend that has improved, according to city data.

D.C. students will be out of school for the winter break between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.

“What we don’t want to see happen, especially over the holiday break, is that we start to see this massive rise in cases,” Henderson said. “We feel like the rapid (tests) will help add another layer of protection and reassurance.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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