The use of $100,000 of grant funding for renovations related to COVID-19 at the St. Mary’s County Health Department was approved by commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday, for the purpose of reconfiguring a biological laboratory so it can be used for rapid coronavirus testing.
To control and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the state, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) put in place a state of emergency on March 5, which has been renewed several times and is still in place. According to meeting documents, one of the bottlenecks for public health officials in managing and better controlling the spread of the virus has been the restricted ability to do rapid testing. The equipment is now available, after the county had it on backorder, and a space in the existing health department headquarters could be reconfigured to create a separate BSL-2 lab that is necessary to run such tests while still retaining all the current lab functionality in the clinic.
The health department received its own allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Grant funding that can be used for renovating three rooms at their Leonardtown headquarters to create the subject lab.
“Currently there is a lab, which isn’t the best, that can’t run the tests that are, at this point, required because of COVID,” John Deatrick, director of the department of public works and transportation, said. “In order to finish by the end of December, which is a requirement of the CARES grant, we need to get authorization now.”
Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) asked if the project could get done in five months, with the director responding that is correct.
“What will this lab do?” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) asked.
Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for the county, said, “The original intent of the lab was to create a safe space that is required on a certain level of certification in order to run the rapid testing equipment that we need for COVID-19 testing … those results can take half an hour versus days we are seeing at private laboratories.”
She mentioned the equipment will be able to process other types of infectious disease tests, such as “flu, [respiratory syncytial virus] and so forth.” Although they are procuring the equipment for COVID-19, Brewster is hopeful it will continue to be useful in the future.
Morgan asked if any other counties had rapid testing going on, and the health officer said other counties do have facilities available that are doing rapid testing, just not within their health departments.
She noted there still may be a delay in receiving test results with rapid testing while some supplies needed to run the equipment continue to be on back order.
“This is the first step in the renovation of that whole building,” Deatrick said.