Senators Provide Update On Testing Capacity, Federal Resources For Coronavirus

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U.S. Senator Ben Cardin told Anne Arundel County delegates Friday that while state public health officials are ready to test individuals who show symptoms of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, or who have recently traveled, private labs may take two days or even two weeks before they are ready to perform doctor-ordered testing.

“It takes time for labs to understand how to do the test,” Cardin said in a scheduled joint appearance with a fellow Maryland Democrat, Senator Chris Van Hollen. Cardin explained that private companies have to train personnel and implement testing protocols.

“It’s up to [them] how fast they can get them on the shelf, get it into their protocols, change their computer programs, get instructions out to doctors,” said Cardin.

Cardin said 2,500 test kits have been distributed nationwide with the capacity to test about 1 million people, and public health labs now have the capacity to test 75,000 people.

The lab at Maryland Department of Health (MDH) began testing for coronavirus on Tuesday, March 3, according to a memorandum available on the department’s website. Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency Thursday, March 5, after three people evaluated at MDH tested positive for COVID-19.

“Let me make it clear, we do not have a vaccine today, and we will not have a vaccine in the foreseeable future,” said Maryland’s senior senator, who added a vaccine may be ready in 2021. He reminded delegates there is no known cure for COVID-19, and therapeutic drugs remain in trial stages.

Van Hollen added any vaccines for COVID-19 must be affordable and accessible.

“It doesn’t do any good if you have a vaccine that people don’t want to get because they can’t afford it,” Van Hollen said.

The pair arrived the same morning President Donald Trump signed an emergency bill making $8.3 billion in federal funds available to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received $2.2 billion. According to the bill, $950 million of the CDC allotment will grant states funds “to carry out surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, communications, and other preparedness and response activities.”

The bill passed through the House of Representatives on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday with bipartisan support.

Van Hollen said businesses should discourage sick employees from coming to work and plan to give employees paid sick leave when possible.

“You don’t want people who are sick coming to work,” said Van Hollen, in between delegation visits.

Rudy Adriano of Jenos Steaks agreed. His employees are always washing hands and always have practiced calling in sick when they’re not feeling well.

“It’s common sense,” said Adriano. “Long before this occurred, whenever they’re feeling sick, they call in.”

Area restaurant owner Andrew Fox has always supplied ample hand sanitizer for employees and emphasized handwashing in all of his restaurants. Fox co-owns Vida Taco Bar, Level, and Fox’s Den with his brother Chris and their business partner, John Miller.

“The one thing we tell (employees) is focus on themselves and their health,” said Fox. “Their cleanliness alone will substantially reduce any risks associated with coronavirus.”

Benfield Nail and Day Spa owner Channa Tsin said to prepare, she picked up a package of bleach wipes and has been doing extra cleanings, wiping door handles and work surfaces.

She’s not yet worried about business slowing, but it has crossed her mind.

“I guess when you have a business, you are concerned, but we haven’t really seen that yet around here,” said Tsin.

While Fox acknowledged the economic impacts of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak to businesses could be “devastating,” he remained optimistic.

“I want all the businesses and people to come out of this unscathed and thriving,” said Fox.

In Friday’s federal appropriation, legislators allotted $20 million to alleviate burdens on small businesses as a result of coronavirus outbreaks. The Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loans Program Account will facilitate distributions, according to the bill.

Prior to the three Maryland coronavirus cases, Hogan declared a state of emergency and submitted legislation allowing him to deduct $50 million from the state’s “rainy day fund” to mitigate a virus outbreak. Hogan submitted a request Friday for an additional $10 million in a supplemental appropriations package for funds to be designated in fiscal year 2021.

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