Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services is facing criticism for not testing all of the youths and staff members housed at its facilities, despite Gov. Larry Hogan announcing last month that “universal testing” would take place across the department.
Department spokesman Eric Solomon wrote in an email that the department has administered 163 tests to juveniles and 264 to staff at its facilities “since COVID-19 testing began.”
As of Monday, seven youths and 19 DJS staff have tested positive for COVID-19, Solomon wrote. All seven youths have recovered and all but one staff member has recovered.
While Solomon maintains the department’s three-part plan is currently on schedule, the public defender’s office criticized the department for taking a month to only get to part two of its plan. Hogan announced the push for universal testing at all juvenile facilities on May 20.
Jenny Egan, chief attorney of the juvenile division at the Office of the Public Defender, said the department’s standards for testing could leave children exposed at the facilities.
“I’m very concerned about why DJS has created this roll out process,” said Egan, adding that her office has not received sufficient answers as to why the department has instituted a multi-part plan while the state reported 7,433 newly completed COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period on Monday.
“This is how long it would take to roll out?” she asked.
Solomon said the testing “is divided into three cohorts” and is scheduled to be completed by the end of July.
He did not elaborate further on which facilities are included in which part of the plan, nor when each part is scheduled to be completed outside of the entirety scheduled to end by the end of next month.
Solomon wrote that the “second cohort is under way as planned and is on schedule,” but provided no details as to what that schedule was or what is being done to meet its requirements.
He added that the dates and locations of the plan are also subject to change based on the department’s needs, writing “we are reserving flexibility to change locations and dates when needed to accommodate the needs of the agency.”
He did not answer further questions about which facilities were tested already or are scheduled to be tested next, nor how the department prioritized testing among its facilities.
“Anyone who enters DJS facilities on a regular basis will be tested,” Solomon wrote. “This includes DJS staff, vendors, contractors, and teachers from [The Maryland State Department of Education.] Additionally, it has been about a month since a youth or staff member has tested positive in a DJS facility.”
But with a changing population as alleged juvenile offenders are entered into the system, Egan said, the state has not done enough to reach Hogan’s stated goal of “universal testing.”
According to a daily population report of DJS facilities, as of Monday, 147 youths are housed at DJS detention facilities, with more at various department programs such as in residential treatment care or at group homes.
Of that 147, 14 people are listed as either in “New Admission Quarantine,” “Medical Isolation,” or in just “Quarantine,” according to the report. Those statuses may not have any connection with COVID-19 cases. They range from three female youths in quarantine at the Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Rockville to four newly admitted male youths in quarantine at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George’s County.
Egan said that without department-wide testing to get a snapshot of known cases at a given time, the state could be putting youths at risk.
“If they don’t test everyone in a concerted manner around the same time, then you don’t get a full picture of what’s going on,” Egan said.