Maryland secures half million COVID-19 testing kits from South Korea

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A Korean Air Boeing 777 passenger plane delivered 500,000 tests to BWI airport on Saturday. Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday announced that Maryland had secured half a million testing kits from South Korea to ramp up the state’s testing capability. Photo courtesy of Governor Larry Hogan’s Twitter.

Maryland has secured supplies to conduct half a million COVID-19 tests from South Korea, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday.

South Korean company LabGenomics developed and produced 500,000 kits, which the South Korean government then delivered to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Saturday. Those kits will allow Maryland to conduct 500,000 tests.

“I want to sincerely thank our Korean partners for assisting us in our fight against this common, hidden enemy,” Hogan said.

Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan, who grew up in South Korea, helped coordinate the procurement of the supplies with South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Lee Soo-hyuck.

Hogan said that he and other state officials have been working with U.S. federal agencies and the South Korean government for about three weeks to secure the testing kits through a confidential project they called “Operation Enduring Friendship.”

Previously, Hogan said the state had set an “aggressive” goal of being able to complete 10,000 tests per day.

Today, he upped that goal, now aiming to conduct 20,000 tests each day. He added that the state is working to procure more and different types of tests to get there.

“This is not the end of the process at all,” he said. “We’re going to try to be able to be in a position to test as much as possible.”

Increasing the state’s testing capacity is one of the “four building blocks” that Hogan laid out last week as necessary steps to complete before easing restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The other three building blocks include ramping up hospitals’ surge capacity, obtaining more personal protective equipment and developing a “robust” contact tracing operation.

Hogan is expected to unveil the rest of his “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” plan sometime this week, which will chart a path to “reopening” the state and easing some of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Hogan said the 500,000 testing kits cost about $9 million, “a worthwhile investment” to protect Marylanders and get the state’s economy back on track, he said, particularly as the state is expecting to lose $2.8 billion in revenue by July 1.

Maryland expanded its testing capability by more than 5,000 percent over the past 30 days, and labs have completed more than 71,000 tests for the state to date, Hogan said.

He added that last week the state secured 40,000 additional tests and invested $2.5 million into the University of Maryland’s Baltimore lab so the facility could handle up to 20,000 tests per day by using robotics.

Hogan said state officials “have been doing everything in our power” to acquire more tests from the federal government, but Maryland has had to compete with every other state in the country to get a hold of tests from domestic and international producers.

Procuring the 500,000 test kits from South Korea is an “exponential, game-changing step forward” in the state’s efforts to increase its testing capability, Hogan said.

He said the state will begin using the testing kits immediately, but they will also need additional testing supplies, such as swabs and chemical reagents.

Republican members of the Maryland House of Delegates on Saturday called on Hogan to use a regional approach to relaxing restrictions on businesses amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Hogan said on Monday that the state is considering the possibility of easing COVID-19 restrictions on a regional basis in Maryland.

However, he cautioned that such a move would have to be executed carefully in order to not create a flood of infections.

“What we don’t want to have is one place open, everybody rushes over there and then infects that county,” he said.

Marcus Dieterle

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