LEONARDTOWN, Md. — At their July 28 meeting, the St. Mary’s County Commissioners moved to put $100,000 of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security(CARES) Act funds, towards renovating a biosafety laboratory which will allow the St. Mary’s to turnaround results for coronavirus testing at a more rapid pace.

The health department would be able to use the money to transform spaces inside of their current headquarters building. Thereby turning existing clinic space into a certified Biological Safety Laboratory rated at level two(BSL-2), which would in turn follow state law that allows for the use of rapid-testing equipment.

Under the current “emergency use authorization” from the Food and Drug Administration(FDA), the rapid-testing equipment can be used under much lighter circumstances. After that authorization is ended or expires, a BSL-2 would be required to utilize any rapid-testing equipment.

The full plan would entail moving vaccines and other materials that are currently housed in freezers or refrigerators into a less utilized space, and then making what was described as relatively minor structural changes to create the new space for the lab.

“In the existing health department headquarters building, there is currently a lab which isn’t the best shall we say,” the director of the county’s public works and transportation, John Deatrick said at the meeting. “It works but it can’t run any of the tests that are at this point required for COVID. What you need to run the emergency tests is one of these biological safety labs [rated level 2].”

St. Mary’s County Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster explained how the county has still faced some struggles in reaching this point of the renovation. Not only has the lab equipment been back-ordered for months, but the materials needed to utilize that lab equipment have also been backed up. However, she remained somewhat optimistic about St. Mary’s County being ahead of where other jurisdictions may be.

“The original intent of the lab was to create a safe space that was required in order to run the rapid-testing equipment that we need for COVID testing,” Brewster said at the meeting. “Those results can take half an hour versus the days that we are seeing at private laboratories.”

With the grant money being processed, Deatrick later affirmed that the renovation would be completed over the next five months, a required requisite for the utilization of CARES funds.

Brewster, on the other hand, seemed more enthusiastic about the long-term public health benefits for St. Mary’s County by having this type of lab in-house at the health department.

“[This] equipment is also equipment that can process other types of infectious disease tests including flu, [respiratory syncytial virus]…” Brewster elaborated. “We are looking into procuring this equipment for the purpose of COVID, but are hopeful that it will also be useful in the future to expand the services we provide from an infectious disease perspective.”

Contact Zach at zach.hill@thebaynet.com