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Maryland urges local jurisdictions to test at least 10% of population for coronavirus

Maryland officials announced Thursday a goal of testing 10% of the population in each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions for the coronavirus.

As of Thursday, only three counties — Somerset, Wicomico and Dorchester — have reached that mark, according to state data. Queen Anne’s, Garrett, Cecil and Calvert counties are all beneath 5%.

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In a letter addressed to local leaders, Robert R. Neall, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, and deputy health secretary Fran Phillips urged local health departments to utilize the state’s quantity of available tests. There are more than 150 testing locations statewide, according to the letter.

“As part of our COVID-19 testing expansion, Maryland continues to make large quantities of specimen collection kits directly available to local health departments,” the letter read. “Given that the state has a long-term strategic supply of tests, there is no need to stockpile these resources or turn away our allocations. Instead, we ask that your local health departments use these tests to increase the number and capacity of community-based testing sites. 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.”

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In the Baltimore region, Baltimore City has the highest testing rate at 8.5%, according to state data. Baltimore County has tested 7.9% of its population, Howard County is at 6.9%, Carroll County is at 6.7%, Anne Arundel County is at 5.9% and Harford County is at 5.7%.

The state will begin releasing these metrics daily, along with other coronavirus data.

A spokeswoman for Queen Anne’s County, which Maryland officials reported as ranking last at 4.3%, said the county has actually tested closer to, and possibly more than, 5% of its population, which would still have it among the four counties with the lowest percentage.

“There’s actually a little bit of a problem with the numbers, so we’re working on working with the state to get that corrected, so we’re not quite as low as they reported,” Beth Malasky said. “I know that we’ve had a lot of discrepancy with numbers between the state since everything started. I think we’re just a small county on the shore, and it happens.”

Malasky said the county’s low figure partly stems from its lack of hospitals, pharmacies, emission inspection stations or other facilities the state has used as testing centers, while a private pharmacy in the county has been capable of testing only since Monday. She noted a recently closed testing center in the county was being used to test Queen Anne’s residents as well as those of Caroline, Talbot, Dorchester and Kent counties.

Queen Anne’s County “absolutely” will be able to hit the 10% mark, Malasky said. The county has been contacting personal care physicians in the state and working to make them capable of performing tests on their patients.

“It’s going to be a whole community effort,” Malasky said.

Maryland has reported an average of more than 10,000 test results over the past week, with the letter stating the state’s goal is 20,000. The most results Maryland has reported in one day was 16,354 on May 28.

On Thursday, the state reported 260 new cases of the virus, its fewest since March 31, to raise the total of infections in Maryland to 63,229.

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