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COVID Blog: Testing capacity 'overstretched' across the DMV

In D.C., Maryland and Virginia, the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive has hit six-month highs.

WASHINGTON — It’s Wednesday, December 2, and Maryland is battening down the hatches and sending out calls for help as coronavirus cases continue surging in the state.

On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state had begun contacting members of the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps to help treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients in the state. Hogan said 21 hospitals were at 90% capacity or above, and that the state’s projections called for Maryland to set a new record for hospitalizations due to the coronavirus in the coming days.

The situation is so serious that Hogan even asked colleges and universities in the state to allow health care students to graduate early so they can start treating patients immediately.

Meanwhile, both Maryland and D.C. are preparing for distribution of the coronavirus vaccine to begin – although D.C. has already warned it will receive only a fraction of the vaccine doses it needs for health care workers alone.

In case you’re in a hurry and just looking for the numbers, here’s how things look today:

  • DC  D.C. reported 157 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, and is now averaging nearly 190 new cases a day. Additionally, 10 D.C. residents have died from the coronavirus over the past two days. That’s as many as the entire previous week combined.
  • Maryland – Maryland reported 2,220 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday and 42 new deaths – the highest single-day death count in six months. Nearly 30 Marylanders a day are now dying from the virus.
  • Virginia – On Wednesday, Virginia reported 2,417 new cases of the coronavirus. The commonwealth is now averaging 2,311 new cases a day – making Wednesday the 13th consecutive day Virginia averaged more than 2,000 cases.

How are things in the DMV?

All across the DMV, and the country, coronavirus testing capacities are being strained by rising case counts and the glut of tests surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

In D.C., which makes its average test turnaround time available, people are waiting a full day longer than they were prior to Thanksgiving and almost twice as long for results as they were at the beginning of October.

Despite record-breaking testing numbers, however, the average percent positivity for coronavirus tests has risen to its highest point in six months in D.C. (5.6%), Maryland (7.5%) and Virginia (8.5%).

In Maryland, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich summed up the situation in his weekly coronavirus briefing Wednesday: “Thins continue to trend in the absolutely wrong direction.”

“Without vaccines widely spread and without treatments widely available, the only people who can stop the spread of this virus are us. Our actions. That’s it folks,” Elrich said. “Either we keep people safe, or we get tired, we get lazy, we stop following guidelines and we expose people and put them in danger.”

Elrich said hospitals in Montgomery County are at around 70% of their capacity, but that they’d been warned that if facilities in nearby counties get overwhelmed, COVID-19 patients could get moved to Montgomery County.

It’s a situation that Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said didn’t seem to be registering with people.

“You would think that telling people in the absence of clear action that hospitals will run out of space to take care of people… that that would resonate more,” he said. “And it just hasn’t.”

Gayles reiterated during the call that even though the first vaccine doses may begin to be available by the end of the month, it may still be 4-6 months before they become available to the general public.