March 20, 2020 | Kevin Lewis, WJLA
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (ABC7) — MedStar Health may open a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of the former White Flint Mall in North Bethesda, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) revealed during a press conference Friday.
Elrich explained MedStar Health contacted him earlier this week seeking assistance in securing a testing location. Elrich picked up the phone and called Alan Gottlieb, Lerner Enterprises' Chief Operating Officer.
“He was great. He said, ‘Whatever you need,'" Elrich explained with a big smile on his face. “Obviously the mall’s not there anymore but there’s a lot of space to do things... The MedStar people are very excited."
A MedStar Health spokeswoman confirmed the not-for-profit is considering White Flint as a drive-thru testing location but stressed that a final decision has not yet been determined.
"No decision on a testing site in Montgomery County has been made," Marianne Worley, Assistant Vice President of Public Relations and Communications, stated. "Testing would be limited to pre-screened patients through our eVisit platform or primary care physicians. We hope to have it up by the end of next week."
Earlier this week, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service and the National Guard erected medical tents in the parking lots at six hospitals including Suburban Hospital in Bethesda and Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
“They want to test outside of the emergency room because if it’s a positive — or a potential positive — you don’t want that done in an emergency room if you can avoid it," Elrich opined.
SOCIAL DISTANCING MATTERS
As of 10 a.m. Friday, Maryland had reported 149 positive cases of COVID-19. Of those patients, around 15 (or 10 percent) have required some level of hospitalization.
"The overwhelming majority of individuals who have tested positive are convalescing at home with mild to moderate symptoms," Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles stated. "Our disease picture is consistent with what we’ve seen in other areas and other parts of the country."
Gayles went on to explain that seven patients in Maryland, including Montgomery County's first three cases, have been "cleared from isolation." To date, Montgomery County has recorded 51 cases, the most of any county in the state. Prince George's County has the second-highest case count with 31.
“Social distancing matters," added Dr. Gayles as he looked into the lenses of multiple TV cameras. “This is why we are all standing up here six feet apart, to emphasize this message at home.”
ONE STEP AWAY
Dovetailing off Dr. Gayles, Elrich shared how frustrating it has been to see many of his constituents congregating under park pavilions, playing pickup basketball games and entering crowded stores to purchase non-essential items.
“I think that everyone needs to grow up," Elrich candidly stated. “This is not a vacation. This is not spring break. This is not a party... [This is] in defiance, frankly, of common sense.”
Seemingly issuing a final warning, Elrich explained that if Montgomery County's infection rate does not plateau or drop, he would be forced to take more drastic measures.
“We are just one step away from sheltering in place because when you get below [groups of] 10, there’s not much more but saying, we’re going to shelter in place.”
THE RAINY DAY HAS ARRIVED
It is common knowledge that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the economy. To prop up small businesses and low-income residents, Elrich announced plans to withdraw $25 million from the County's so-called rainy-day fund. As it stands, $20 million would be doled out to small businesses coasting on financial fumes.
“Something has to be done because, I can tell you, from talking to business folks, if they don’t think there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, they may decide to close now," Elrich shared. “The rainy day has clearly arrived.”
The remaining $5 million would be provided to residents in need of food and rental assistance.
“When the president sends out whatever checks he’s going to send out, I got a feeling it’s not going to include undocumented people. And so, those folks who are large drivers of this economy, certainly here, and if they’re unemployed by the restaurants, they’re not washing dishes, they’re not waiting tables or busing, they won’t be collecting paychecks so we’re going to have to do something.”
Elrich indicated he would prefer the $25 million be provided as one-time grants, and not loans, but acknowledged that the conversation remains fluid.