To help Dorchester County grapple with the rapidly spreading COVID-19 omicron variant, the health department has expanded drive-thru testing hours and capabilities.
The department’s drive-thru testing clinic has moved to the parking areas and front-door ramp of the former hospital at 300 Byrn Street. The site was selected because it’s among the few available to accommodate more than 500 vehicles during the sessions held Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon, through January (except for inclement weather such as snow or rain).
After getting the go-ahead from Shore Regional Health and county officials to use the now vacant facility’s exterior, traffic flow logistics were instituted then tweaked to quickly and safely expedite those in line for testing. An informational map detailing entry on Dorchester Avenue and exit on Franklin Street has been posted on the department’s Facebook page.
“We had initially set up at our headquarters’ parking lot, but traffic volume exceeded our capacity there,” reported Angela Grove, the organization’s Health Education program manager, who has also served as public information officer throughout the pandemic.
In late December 2021, Dorchester’s positive COVID numbers began rising; the county currently leads Maryland localities with the highest percentage of new cases per 100,000, according to the latest Johns Hopkins University statistics. But the department had already anticipated needing to pivot to meet increased testing demand before and after the holidays, based on last year’s numbers, Grove said.
“We always prepare for the greatest amount we can handle. Throughout the pandemic you just never knew with certainty what to expect,” she added. “It is a huge operation, and a lot of the staff running the testing carry multiple duties and roles at the health department. It’s been ‘all hands on deck.’”
As with prior testing, no appointment or insurance is needed, it’s free of charge and Spanish interpreters are on hand. Masks are required.
Those unable to attend designated drive-thru times can schedule an appointment by calling the department’s COVID-19 Satellite Center at 410-228-0235, Grove advised. With high demand, the center fields an increased call volume, so please try again if you cannot get through right away, she urged.
“We’re working diligently to accommodate everyone, and appointments fill up quickly.”
The department currently receives a limited supply of rapid at-home tests, with Dorchester County allotted 200 bi-weekly, which are distributed in partnership with community organizations including the library and police department. Announcements of additional at-home tests arriving will be made on the Facebook page.
To those calling the Satellite Center for test results, department officials are also requesting patience and perseverance.
“Before the surge, we were averaging two to three days for results, but currently we’re at three to four days,” Grove said. Another option is checking directly with CIAN Diagnostics, which processes the PCR tests and offers an 800 number and website (844-800-CIAN, ciandx.com).
The Satellite Center, which opened last year across from department headquarters at Cedar Street and Dorchester Avenue (in the former Dorchester Banner building), became the main communication link for COVID-related matters such as setting up testing and vaccination appointments, relaying testing information, and providing updated information on the various events scheduled locally, often at faith-based organizations.
“The center has expanded our capacity to take on more COVID-related tasks, while also allowing the department’s main facility to resume some services we had been performing prior to the pandemic,” Grove said.
Vaccinations can currently be scheduled for those ages 12 and up at the main building Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On Jan. 14, a special mobile clinic offering Pfizer vaccines for those ages 5 and up, plus vaccines and boosters for those ages 12 and up, was held at United Missionary Baptist Church on Phillips Avenue in Cambridge. Additional dates and locations are planned.
Even as virus response evolves, the department continually looks ahead for planning purposes, Grove said. As staff become more familiar with the specialized vaccine dosing needs for younger children, it’s hoped that all clinics will be available to everyone over the age of 5, she added.
The department’s dedication and efforts have received official recognition since the pandemic’s early days. In 2020, the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area bestowed its first Business Partnership Rising Up Award to the health department, marking “significant achievement in partnership to deliver solutions for the betterment of Dorchester County in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Together, they delivered solutions, not just enforcement. Their work served the community in a very turbulent time. Lives and jobs were saved because of the way in which the Dorchester County Health Department handled the crisis.”
The department’s COVID-19 Response Team also received the Maryland Department of Health Secretary’s Customer Service Spotlight for December 2020. While noting the contributions of many staff members, the following individuals were specially mentioned for outstanding coordination of services: Lanise Mohn, director of nursing; Brice Strang, emergency preparedness program administrator; Hannah Mayhew, public health emergency planner; and PIO Grove.
“I think there’s no denying that the success of operations we provide to the community are the result of staff dedication. All of those helping out with the expanded clinics have regular assigned duties. But they’re volunteering to step up and be out here in the cold, to help out in any way that’s needed. It’s just our way of offering service to the public,” Grove said.