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As coronavirus cases continue to climb, in Harford County it can take days to get a COVID-19 test appointment

One of the most important things you can do to protect your family and friends is get tested for COVID-19, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said during a news conference Tuesday. But as coronavirus cases in Harford County continue to surge, getting an appointment to be tested is becoming increasingly difficult.

Connor Delancey said she was fortunate to get a coronavirus test last week, when she was one of about 50 people who lined up outside the ExpressCare Urgent Care Center on Route 22 in Bel Air nearly two hours before the doors opened.

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Delancey, a 23-year-old Bel Air resident, started looking to get tested Nov. 9 after learning she had a close contact with someone whose family member had tested positive for COVID-19. Appointments weren’t available at places like CVS or Walgreen’s until much later in the week, she said.

While Delancy said she was able to get tested last Wednesday, people who arrived after the urgent care center opened at 10 a.m. were turned away.

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“If you weren’t in the line, you couldn’t walk up and get the test. It was a hard cut off,” she said.

Harford County added 131 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, with 4,959 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, according to state data. Key metrics, including the county’s positivity rate and the seven-day moving average case rate continued their two-week ascent. The average case rate is now 35.79 per 100,000 people — the highest level since the pandemic started and a five-fold increase since the end of October, when the surge began.

The county’s positivity rate, which measures the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests against the number of tests administered, reached 9.32% Wednesday, the highest it’s been since mid-May. A higher positivity rate indicates a higher level of transmission in the community and suggests more testing should be done.

However, Harford ranks near the bottom of Maryland jurisdictions in the number of residents who have been tested. As of Wednesday, 29.4% of the county’s population has been tested, according to state data, ranking 19th out of 23 counties and Baltimore City.

Hogan, at his news conference, encouraged more people to get tested as statewide metrics continued to rise.

“If you are a college student planning on returning home, get a test. If you’re planning to spend any time around your grandparents, get a test. If you are returning from any out-of-state travel, get a test,” he said, noting there are more than 220 sites available statewide.

But Harford County only has one non-privatized testing location run by Upper Chesapeake Health and the county’s Health Department, at the site of UCH’s future freestanding medical facility off Route 22 in Aberdeen. Indoor testing began there Oct. 1, and health officials said they were able to offer same day testing until about two weeks ago — roughly the same time the surge began in Harford.

The wait time for an appointment was about “a day or two” health officials said last week, when they reported as many as 150 people were being tested daily at the Aberdeen site. That was an increase of about 50 more patients each day since testing began there. In an email, an Upper Chesapeake Health spokesperson said the volume of people at Aberdeen has increased since last week, but was unable to provide specific numbers.

Appointments are required to get tested at the Aberdeen site, and as of 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, there were no more appointments available that day and the website did not allow future appointments to be scheduled. The site is currently open Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until noon, Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to noon and Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

Last week, UCH officials said there was no consideration of adding a second testing location, but that it was “actively working on being able to expand the current operation to better accommodate our community’s needs,” but did not provide specifics.

The Harford County Health Department’s website lists several pharmacies and urgent care centers in the county where COVID-19 tests are available, but many do not have appointments for several days.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, CVS pharmacies in Harford did not have any appointments through Friday. The closest next available appointments were Friday afternoon in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, and Severna Park — both about 25 to 30 miles from Bel Air. By noon Wednesday, those appointments were no longer available.

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MedStar Health Urgent Care, which has clinics in Bel Air and Belcamp, noted patients must book ahead online to be seen in person and walk-ins would not be accepted.

Unlike some other Maryland counties, the Harford County Health Department is not offering COVID testing at its buildings, something Delancey found frustrating when trying to get her test last week.

“Every other county that I’ve been in, especially Prince George’s County … their health departments are facilitating COVID testing, they are easily accessible,” said Delancey, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park. "I can see how people would not be getting tested for various reasons. The whole process is confusing in Harford County.”

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said he has heard similar stories about wait times, from both constituents and county employees.

“If I have a county employee exposed, we ask them to get tested, and sometimes it’s four or five days before they can get an appointment, particularly if they don’t have any symptoms,” Glassman said.

Last week, when announcing county offices were closing because of the rising coronavirus metrics, Glassman said he’d used CARES Act funding to purchase about 1,500 rapid COVID-19 tests for county employees and allied agencies that work in essential services, such as the 9-1-1 dispatch center, emergency response or water and sewer departments.

“If we get an outbreak in a vital service area, we can do some rapid testing and keep operational,” he said.

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