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'We’re not there’: Baltimore buys 18,000 coronavirus tests, with more coming, but remains under stay-at-home order

Baltimore City has purchased 18,000 coronavirus tests amid a national shortage and will soon be able to process its own tests to provide results to residents more quickly, officials announced Tuesday.

In addition, the state has agreed to provide up to 500 tests a week to the city, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a news conference, as Maryland begins offering testing to those without symptoms.

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But Baltimore’s daily testing capacity remains less than a quarter of what the World Health Organization recommends to safely reopen, the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and deaths are still increasing, and the mayor’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect through Memorial Day weekend, he said.

“Baltimore City is simply not in a position to safely reopen at this time,” Young said. “To get there, we must significantly increase testing capacity in order to meet guidelines established by public health experts.

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“Please, believe me, I would love nothing more than to be able to tell our residents that it is safe to resume businesses and other activities. But we’re not there, and I would be negligent in doing so.”

The 18,000 new tests and added lab capacity are results of a deal between the Baltimore City Health Department and Hologic, a Massachusetts-based medical diagnostics company, said Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner.

The cost of the tests and lab were not available Tuesday, said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young. The city has authorized $6 million to be spent in its coronavirus response.

Based on the city’s population, an estimated 2,700 to 2,800 tests must be processed per day to safely reopen, the mayor said. The city’s daily average, by comparison, is less than 600, he said.

“As you can see, even with this new commitment from the governor, there is a large disparity between where we are currently and where the CDC guidance is recommending we be at to reopen safely,” Young said.

Dzirasa encouraged residents to cooperate with contact tracers, who are calling people who potentially have been exposed to the pandemic.

“Please answer the phone when you get the contact tracing calls,” she said. “Please answer the questions honestly, and be sure to provide information that the contact tracers are asking for. These calls are confidential, and we would never ask residents for personal information like Social Security number, credit card information, or immigration status. We will leave a voicemail, so please if you screen your calls check your voicemail and call us back.”

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