MARYLAND — With more parts of Maryland reopening, state officials say coronavirus testing is increasingly important to ensure that potential outbreaks are identified and contained. State health officials sent a letter Thursday to local leaders urging them to make testing more accessible to everyone, as this weekend more restrictions are lifted on businesses and nursing homes.
“It is absolutely critical to step up local COVID-19 testing response efforts so that we may continue to move forward on the road to recovery,” Maryland Health Secretary Robert Neall and Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips said in a letter sent Thursday to local leaders.
Nursing home residents will be allowed to have limited outdoor visits, limited communal dining and small group activities, Neall said Friday, relaxing restrictions put in place by state health officials in March. The older population has been particularly vulnerable to the virus, and visitors to nursing homes have been restricted since March 10.
Starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 19, Gov. Larry Hogan is also allowing gyms, malls, bowling alleys and casinos to reopen with safety and sanitizing measures in place.
“As more people are returning to the workplace, and as more people are beginning to interact with larger numbers of people, testing will become more critical than ever,” Hogan said in a statement this week, announcing a new high-volume coronavirus testing location outside the Baltimore Convention Center.
More high-volume testing sites will open in the coming weeks, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
“Officials are urging county leaders to step up local COVID-19 testing efforts and meet the goal of testing 10% of their populations,” Hogan said in a statement Thursday.
He released a graph showing what percentage of the population had been tested in each jurisdiction. Somerset County leads the way in testing, with 18.1 percent of its population tested, while Queen Anne’s County is last at 4.3 percent.
“We urge you to make every effort and come up with innovative ways to provide your residents and businesses with open and convenient access to testing,” the state’s health secretaries said, noting Maryland had authorized pharmacies to administer tests; opened high-volume testing sites; advanced agreements with CVS Health, Rite Aid and Walmart for drive-thru locations; opened a test processing lab at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences; and broadened the criteria for testing.
These are the groups the Maryland Department of Health has prioritized for coronavirus tests:
Anyone with symptoms
People who do not have symptoms meet at least one of the following criteria:
Those who have had contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases
Residents and staff of congregate living facilities and long-term care facilities
Health care workers and first responders
Patients, especially those who are high-risk, whose care would be altered with a COVID-19 diagnosis
Those working in close-contact settings
Those who have been in a large gathering
Those who have been directed by the Maryland Department of Health to get tested associated with a cluster, outbreak or contact investigation
Authorities said 319 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the past day. There are 63,229 confirmed cases of the virus in Maryland, state health officials reported Friday.
See an interactive map of COVID-19 testing sites in Maryland.
The positivity rate is at 5.41 percent statewide, Hogan said Friday, noting there are nearly 170 locations to get tested for the virus.
Here are the larger testing sites:
A large testing site has been set up at Six Flags America theme park, which will offer appointment-free testing from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday, June 19, at 13710 Central Avenue in Upper Marlboro.
At the Baltimore Convention Center, people can walk in or schedule an appointment for Friday.
The Maryland State Fairgrounds is open Tuesdays and Thursday for drive-thru testing at 2200 York Road in Timonium. Make an appointment for testing at the fairgrounds online.
Since the pandemic began in March, state health officials say more than 544,000 coronavirus tests have been administered across Maryland, and more than 10,000 people have been hospitalized with the virus. Nearly 4,700 have been released from isolation. A total of 2,901 people have died from the coronavirus, state health officials reported Friday.
For more than three weeks, the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients has decreased each day, according to state health data, and the number on the intensive care unit has gone down for 17 consecutive days too.
Coronavirus in Maryland: A Snapshot
Here is a look at Maryland’s coronavirus numbers as of Friday, June 19:
Coronavirus At Group Living Facilities
Coronavirus data from congregate living facilities is updated weekly on Wednesdays.
Here are the numbers as of Friday, June 19:
Maryland Coronavirus Cases By Jurisdiction
Maryland Coronavirus Cases By Age And Gender
Maryland Coronavirus Cases By Race And Ethnicity
This article originally appeared on the Baltimore Patch