- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Montgomery County officials said Wednesday that they are ramping up coronavirus testing again after breaking ties with their largest test supplier and shutting down some of its sites.

Beginning next week, testing clinics in the county will be open every day. The county also is opening two mobile trailers for testing, loaned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that will be stationed on Randolph Road in Wheaton and at Lakeforest Mall.

“On the testing front, we have made a really significant turnaround in our testing program,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference. “We have managed to revive our testing program. We’re now doing several hundred tests a day. We’re continuing to ramp that up and open new testing sites in the county.”

This week, the county has opened testing sites at Wheaton Recreation Center, White Oak Recreation Center and the Silver Spring Civic Building.

Dr. Travis Gayles, county health officer, told reporters Wednesday that testing has dropped to a daily average of 450 to 500 people this week but he hopes to return to peak testing levels, averaging 1,100 to 1,500 a day.

The county this month had to shut down its government-operated clinics that administered tests by the Rockville-based company AdvaGenix. The AdvaGenix tests, meant to serve primarily asymptomatic people, had been administered to more than 17,000 residents and made up about 8% of the county’s tests.

Last week, the county terminated its contract with AdvaGenix after the company received a cease-and-desist order from the state. Maryland then revised its order, which lifted the suspension of the company’s lab permit but warned that AdvaGenix can collect and process COVID-19 samples only when the office of health care quality gives it the green light to resume.

AdvaGenix on Wednesday announced that it had submitted a temperature stability study requested by investigators who had inspected the company’s facility.

“Our study confirms that specimens are stable and are not adversely affected by the high temperatures that are common in Montgomery County during the summer,” said Dr. Williams Kearns, AdvaGenix CEO. “Our preanalytical temperature stability study demonstrates that no saliva sample was compromised by excessive heat.”

It is unclear whether the county will resume its agreement with AdvaGenix. Dr. Gayles told reporters that county officials are awaiting word and documents from the state regarding their investigation into the company.

In addition to getting test kits from the state, Dr. Gayles said, county officials are looking to “diversify our testing portfolio” and bring in other lab partners even before the mishap with AdvaGenix. The health officer said the county is looking at labs that develop self-collection tests, which could allow for testing more people less invasively in a shorter time span.

As of Wednesday, Montgomery County had reported 19,599 COVID-19 cases and 776 deaths.

Montgomery County public school students will start their academic year with remote learning Monday. The county had not received guidance from the state about nonpublic schools, Mr. Elrich said.

“We continue to feel strongly that it’s not safe for schools to open, and we continue to recommend that nonpublic schools which haven’t made decisions to not open yet,” Mr. Elrich said.

All D.C. public schools will start the school year online for the first term, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 6.

In preparation for remote learning, the District has expanded its mental health hotline, which was created to provide support to those experiencing stress during COVID-19, to offer help for families affected, and to connect parents with school-based clinicians and early childhood specialists, said Barbara Bazron, director of the city’s behavioral health department.

The department also will launch an online support network, Wellness Wednesdays, for parents beginning Sept. 2.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee reminded parents Wednesday to enroll their children in school and to contact their school if they need technology devices and internet access. Pre-kindergarten children will receive iPads, and elementary and secondary school students will receive laptops.

School staff will track attendance for students ages 5 to 17 with logins via an online platform called Canvas. Teachers will use Microsoft Teams for live instruction with students.

Although learning is remote, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn assured that schools will continue to provide free and reduced-price meals for students. The Kids Ride Free cards are valid through Sept. 29, and new SmarTrip cards will be distributed as the District plans for the second school term.

D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt reminded parents to make sure that their children are up to date on their vaccinations such as measles and chickenpox.

“This year, because of the impact of COVID-19 on our health care system and accessing well child visits, we have experienced an unprecedented decrease in childhood immunization rates, particularly amongst the school-aged population,” said Dr. Nesbitt. “We want to make sure that our children are still protected and have all their vaccines so that as soon as the in-person learning experience can resume in the District, all of our children will be up to date with their required vaccines.”

D.C. families can get their children vaccinated through their health care providers or at one of the following school-based health care centers: Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, Cardozo Education Campus, Coolidge High School and Ida B. Wells Middle School, Dunbar High School, Roosevelt High School, Woodson High School and Medstar/Georgetown Mobile Clinic at Kelly Miller Middle School.

The coronavirus has sickened 13,722 D.C. residents and killed 605, according to the city’s Department of Health.

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