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Where To Get A COVID-19 Test In Baltimore? Experiences Vary

Mary Rose Madden

According to Charles Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, typical turnaround time for COVID-19 test results in Maryland averages between two to seven days. 

There are publicly and privately run sites - and the Maryland Department of Health says the state has been averaging approximately 20,000 tests per day at all test sites for the last five days.

One privately run site is the “rapid response site” at the Mondawmin Mall CVS, where the results are expected within 24 hours. A sign hanging on the site’s fence says to make an appointment and gives the number to call. 

But when you call that number...nothing. The line goes dead.

WYPR tried Tuesday. Wednesday. The phone line never connected.

On Wednesday morning, a person who works at the testing site suggested one could make an appointment by leaving their name and email. "Someone should get in touch the next day," he said. 

In an email response, Erin Britt, Director of Corporate Communications of CVS Health wrote, "We recognize that there is significant interest from the community in accessing this free testing and we are working as quickly as possible to increase resources at the site to meet the high demand to schedule appointments." 

Health officials have been saying for months that coronavirus testing leads to quick identification of cases, quick treatment for those who test positive and immediate isolation to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Credit Mary Rose Madden / WYPR
Dr. Chuck Callahan is the deputy director of the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital. He estimates that they did 1,000 tests on Wednesday.

Over at The Convention Center in downtown Baltimore, about eighty masked workers were breaking down tables and packing up coolers at the close of the day Wednesday. Dr. Chuck Callahan, deputy director of the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, says they were slammed. He estimated that his team saw "close to a thousand," people. It was one of – if not the – busiest days since the testing site set up June 17 he said. The site charges no fee and doesn’t require a doctor’s referral. Callahan says they recommend making an appointment online, but you can walk-in, however it’s only open on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Callahan says some people who come to get tested report symptoms and some don’t. "An awful lot of people are coming because they have travel requirements - they’ve been out of state or they’re coming back to state, some are going back to work, some are planning travel."

Alexandra Hewett is in that boat. She needs to go to New Jersey next week – she’s next of kin for her aunt who recently passed away and she’s planning a small memorial service. Hewett says she knew Maryland's COVID numbers were higher than New Jersey's. "You’re supposed to quarantine before you go," she says."So, I thought: let me get a test."

Like many states in the Northeast, New Jersey requires Maryland visitors to either quarantine or provide a COVID test that was taken in the last 72 hours.

But when Hewett started looking for a COVID test, she went down the rabbit hole. 

Her primary doctor said he couldn’t help her - she didn't have symptoms. So,  Hewett started looking up testing sites on the web and making calls. At one point, she called a COVID resources hotline. But, the person who answered the number listed on the website asked, "how did you get this number?" Hewett says she could hear the frustration in her voice.

The operator told her she'd been receiving a lot of similar calls.

After about four hours and three in-person stops, Hewett was able to make an  appointment – for next week.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa says thousands use the testing sites run by the city every day: There’s the Pimlico Race Course, various churches, and there are mobile clinics that go to neighborhoods that have been hit hardest.

Credit Mary Rose Madden / WYPR
The Pimlico Race Course's drive through testing site in Baltimore City.

"Because there was such scarcity of tests [early on], there’s always that fear of running out of tests or testing materials. But we’re certainly in a much better place – our testing capacity has grown significantly in the past few weeks," Dzirasa says.

The goal, she says, is to increase access - to information regarding testing as well as to the test itself,  regardless of fees, symptoms, and referrals. 

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.
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