EASTON — Gov. Larry Hogan was in Easton on Thursday afternoon to visit a pop-up COVID-19 test site and the location of a drive-thru testing site currently under construction.

The drive-thru site located in a portion of the University of Maryland Medical Center parking lot on Cadmus Drive, off of Idlewild Avenue, and is expected to begin conducting tests early next week. It will be open seven days a week.

Hogan said the hospital-based models across the state were designed to meet the increased demand for testing while alleviating pressure on emergency rooms. Health officials are urging the public not to go to emergency rooms for a COVID-19 test.

Eight of the 10 sites are fully operational, and the other six, including Easton, are slated to be in operation by end of the coming week.

“Our team is working around the clock to launch these sites,” Hogan said. “They are going to help us keep our already strained emergency rooms and hospitals from getting overrun by people who are just trying to get a test.”

Maryland has completed more than 17 million COVID tests. In recent months, the daily demand for testing dropped to only a few thousand statewide; now, about 63,000 tests are being done every day, one of highest testing rates in America.

The current demand for COVID testing has swamped hospitals and other medical care facilities, but Hogan said the build out of the hospital-based testing model has already begun to alleviate some of that congestion, with one facility seeing a 72% drop in ER visits.

In another avenue of state level response, Hogan announced the distribution of N95 and KN95 masks through the Maryland Army National Guard and other partners.

The Hogan administration also is “redoubling efforts” to protect nursing home patients in light of the prevalence of the virus in those facilities. Nearly 70% of Maryland nursing homes have positive cases in residents and staff, so the Maryland Department of Health is upping the testing requirements for staff, volunteers and vendors, and distributing the antiviral drug remdesivir to institutional pharmacies associated with assisted living facilities.

The governor asked for a continuation of good practices for stopping the spread of the virus, noting that the highly transmissible omicron variant is now dominant strain, comprising more than 95% of all positives.

“To withstand this wave, we are encouraging Marylanders to continue doing things that keep us safe,” Hogan said. “We will keep taking actions to address this problem, and we are again urging Marylanders to remain vigilant so that together we can continue leading the nation in our health and economic recovery.”

Hogan was joined at the event by Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force head Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead and UMMS Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. William Huffner.

Prior to the press conference, the governor, the general and the doctor visited the pop-up temporary drive-thru facility set up across the street. They greeted the soldiers manning their stations and the medical personnel, local officials and others.

Workers busily continued assembly of the aluminum-and-canvas-style cover for the hospital-based test area while the three addressed the gathering of press and other onlookers.

“We are number five in America on mask wearing, and much better than most other states that have mandates,” Hogan said in response to a question about a potential mandate. “So I don’t think we have any reason to change strategies when we are one of the best in the country and better than 45 other states.”

“There’s a lot of people here who are health care heroes,” Hogan said. “They’ve been through a heck of a lot for nearly two years now, working around the clock. Some of these steps are to try to take the burden off of them. It’s an incredible team effort, everybody’s just trying to get through the pandemic together.”

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