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‘We should have been further along’: Maryland’s U.S. lawmakers say state residents need more guidance on coronavirus tests

The Maryland congressional delegation talking about federal, state and local governments working together to combat the coronavirus.

WASHINGTON — Maryland’s federal lawmakers said they believe the state will soon have adequate capacity to conduct widespread testing for the new coronavirus but expressed frustration that many residents haven’t been given guidance to answer a basic question: how do they get tested?

“If I’m sounding a little bit confused, it’s because there is not a clear line — and I would have hoped we had a clear line by now,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol.

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“I’m frustrated and thought that we should have been further along than we are right now so I could tell my constituents one thing they could do to get the test,” Cardin said.

Cardin and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, also a Maryland Democrat, briefed the media following a conference call with top state health officials.

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The senators, joined by Baltimore-area representatives C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, said they were seeking to protect Marylanders’ safety while minimizing the effect of the health crisis on the state’s economy.

“The biggest issue — and I think the one that’s on the minds of our constituents — is if you feel like you’re experiencing these symptoms, how do you get tested?” Van Hollen said.

The senators said Marylanders should rely on the advice of their doctors or other health care professionals in deciding which facility — public or private — should conduct a test.

The Democratic lawmakers did not assign blame Tuesday, nor did they fault the administration of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Several of the lawmakers said they were working closely with the governor’s office, referring to their collaboration as “Team Maryland.” Before their news briefing, the lawmakers participated in a conference call with Maryland Secretary of Health Robert Neall and Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Frances Phillips.

“We definitely had a sense of confidence in speaking with Secretary Neall and Fran Phillips today about Maryland being ready,” Sarbanes said. “But we also understand that the federal delegation needs to stand ready to respond to any additional requests.”

In recent days, Cardin and Van Hollen have accused the Trump administration of blending political messages with health advice.

Cardin said Tuesday that he believed the nation “should have cooperated more with the international community — with the World Health Organization— on the original test. But we decided to do things differently, so we now have a test that we developed and also a test that our hospitals are developing.”

Testing for COVID-19 in Maryland was originally done at some public health laboratories and has since expanded to include commercial labs.

“I think we’ll be at the capacity we need within a matter of weeks,” Cardin said.

Testing is critical to health officials’ ability to track the spread of the virus.

“If you have community transmission, you need to be able to have a strong enough sample of tests to know the penetration in the community,” Cardin said. “We don’t have community transmission identified yet in Maryland. We hope it never happens, but likely it will happen, so you’re going to need to have that capacity.”

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Van Hollen said the nation’s school systems needed more clarity on how to handle the crisis.

“Right now, in my view, we’re not getting enough guidance at the federal level, and so you have different states and different school systems responding differently,” he said.

Hogan signed an emergency bill Monday allowing him to tap into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and use up to $50 million for the coronavirus response.

The governor said people should expect the number of cases to rise and urged residents over age 60 to avoid large crowds.

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