Maryland opening new COVID test sites with plans to hand out 20 million free N95, KN95 masks

This nonprofit sells certified N95 masks for about $1 apiece
Posted at 2:19 PM, Jan 13, 2022

EASTON, Md. — Governor Larry Hogan was in Easton on Thursday to announce new COVID-19 measures.

In front of active construction at UM Shore Regional Health, he announced that parking lot will be the site of one of six more hospital-based testing sites that will open next week, including at Howard County General Hospital and UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center.

These will be in addition to the 10 hospital based testing sites he announced last week. Eight are now in operation with the remaining two set to open Friday.

All will be open daily with no appointment necessary.

Hogan said the goal of setting these up outside hospitals is to keep people from going to the ER for testing and to meet the rising demand for testing. The state is administering on average 63,000 tests a day, which is one of the highest rates in the country.

"63,000 a day is back to like close to what it was at the very peak of the crisis before. We have been down to just a few thousand a day so it’s a huge increase," said Hogan.

Hogan also announced the state will begin distributing 20 million free N95 and KN95 masks to the public at nursing homes, local health departments, and state run testing and vaccination sites.

As COVID cases continue to rise amid the growing spread of the omicron variant, Hogan is doubling down on safety for the state's most vulnerable populations.

A report from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living shows nursing homes in the U.S. have experienced an alarming spike in new COVID cases due to community spread among the general population, causing cases among nursing home residents and staff to rapidly increase. However, the rate of current nursing home deaths is 10 times less compared to December 2020, due to high vaccination and booster rates among residents.

Hogan said 70 percent of Maryland nursing homes are reporting positive cases.

Starting January 21, the department of heath is ordering all nursing home staff, volunteers and vendors, regardless of vaccinated status, be tested twice a week when community transmission is high. Nursing home visitors will have to provide proof of a negative test or be tested at the facility prior to entering.

"While we want people to continue to be able to visit their loved ones, we will do everything in our power to make sure they can do so safely," said Hogan.

To help combat the spike, Maryland is also planning to distribute courses of Remdesivir to institutional pharmacies who specialize in serving nursing homes.

Remdesivir is a therapeutic treatment believed to be effective against the Omicron variant.