LEONARDTOWN, Md. — Unconventional times call for unconventional measures.
A Saturday press conference that featured three out of five St. Mary’s County Commissioners, the Director of St. Mary’s County Emergency Services, and the St. Mary’s County Health Officer provided some insight into what the county’s State of Emergency declaration entails.
“[The emergency declaration] gives us additional resources or access to additional resources,” County Commissioner Vice President Mike Hewitt explained during the conference. “It relaxes our procurement policies and allows us to operate a little bit more nimbly, quicker… we don’t have to go through vendors [and] that competitive process. We can go out and get what we need as soon as we think we need it.”
In wake of the novel coronavirus(COVID-19) being declared a “global pandemic” by the World Health Organization, the county has decided to follow in the footsteps of President Donald Trump and Gov. Larry Hogan who have both declared states of emergency over their respective governing bodies, even though no positive cases of COVID-19 have appeared in St. Mary’s. However, in an effort to curb any possible expansion of the virus into the community, the commissioners and the health professionals advising them are hoping early diagnosis’ will help reduce strain on the county’s long term health resources.
“What we’re asking people to do is to use common sense,” Hewitt said. “The key here is to know that a lot of the supplies are already being used for the flu that comes around every year [and] we have a shortage of resources for testing kits. We are doing testing, but we’re only reserving it for those who really need it. If [people] have mild symptoms, try to self-medicate with whatever cold medications or flu medications they may have at home…[and] check with your health provider first.”
Although the county has a limited amount of testing kits currently available, St. Mary’s is not alone according to the acting St. Mary’s County Health Officer, Dr. Meenakshi G. Brewster.
“The shortage is a national shortage. It’s not just here locally, it’s affecting all jurisdictions,” Brewster said. “Currently, the testing that we know of is being done at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, as well as the MedStar Urgent Care in Charlotte Hall. If somebody doesn’t have a prescription for a test, they would be evaluated at those locations and then the healthcare provider evaluating them with determine if a test is warranted for COVID-19.”
Starting Mar. 16, the county has confirmed that “drive-up testing” will be available for those prescribed a test. While the number of patients within the county that will receive screening for COVID-19 will likely increase with availability of drive-up testing, the impact of the shortage of available test kits still draws questions.
Dr. Brewster leaving optimistic from the Saturday press conference.
“Every day as the spread of the disease changes, our testing criteria changes as well,” Brewster explained. “They’re starting [drive-up testing] Monday, it’s outside the MedStar St. Mary’s outpatient pavilion. But people can’t just drive up and get a test, they need to have a prescription for a test that comes from their primary care doctor. Or, if they don’t have a primary care doctor, they can talk to through [calling 301-475-4911] and telephonically speak with a health department nurse… we have a protocol in place that may be there to help assist with testing if they should meet that criteria.”
The county’s leadership that is coordinating the execution of this emergency declaration have outlined a plan to keep the well-being of the public front of mind. The Director of Emergency Services for St. Mary’s County, Stephen Walker, says living up to the need of the situation is critical at this time.
“[Everyday] we’re going to meet for an hour, all the partners that were here and talk about resource needs,” Walker said. “We’re going to talk about impacts, anything that’s occurring, and how we need to respond, and plan to respond. Everyday, six days a week. [Except] Sundays, unless there’s a need, and then we do respond to that.”
As the situation continues to develop, the commissioners and other county leaders appear confident that growing access and expansion to available financial resources will put St. Mary’s ahead of the curve.
“There is additional funding… certainly that as we need additional funding to pay for whatever comes, then we will pass that along to the state,” Walker explained. “The Governor has identified funding available. Now the President has done that also… so there is funding available. What specifically comes depends on what resources we identify that we need, and and what requests we made.”
“It is a collective, concerted effort,” Walker said. “It has to be for all of us to do this together.”
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