County dishes out rapid tests amid omicron spike

County health workers distribute rapid at-home COVID-19 tests outside the Eastpoint Career Center and Flagship Cinemas on Tuesday afternoon. The county is giving out 100,000 of the antigen tests amid a massive COVID-19 resurgence driven by the virus’ contagious omicron variant.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge, county officials are distributing at-home rapid test kits to residents.

The total of 100,000 kits were purchased with federal American Rescue Plan funds earlier this month, when County Executive Johnny Olszewski declared a state of emergency over the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases driven by the coronavirus’ highly contagious omicron variant.

In Dundalk, the remaining kits will be distributed at the Baltimore County Public Library’s North Point and Sollers Point branches starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15. Both of those distributions will be in a walk-up format. For more test distribution sites, visit www.baltimorecountymd.gov/covid-19/testing.

The county government has also added a new COVID-19 testing location at the former Sears Automotive Center at White Marsh Mall, adding to its fleet of testing sites which also include the Dundalk Health Center on Dunmanway, the Drumcastle Government Center in Towson and the Liberty Family Resource Center in Randallstown.

Positive COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in the past month as the omicron variant became the dominant strain of the coronavirus circulating throughout the globe.

Baltimore County had totaled 114,099 positive COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic as of Tuesday. A quarter of them have been added since the start of last month.

Although the omicron variant is thought to be less harmful than previous waves, the rapidly spreading virus is driving more to the hospital, as unmatched numbers are infected each day.

The average amount of patients confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 at Johns Hopkins Bayview more than tripled from early December to last week, and more than doubled at MedStar Franklin Square in that timeframe, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.

Over a third of Bayview’s staffed ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients earlier this month on average, as well as two out of three staffed ICU beds at Franklin Square.

Bayview officials activated “crisis standards of care” at the hospital at the end of last month after the medical center saw the 360% increase in COVID-19 patients, noting in a press release the jump was the highest there throughout the pandemic.

The crisis standards, which were activated at several hospitals around the state, are a set of emergency rules which allow the hospital to temporarily relax bureaucratic functions and redeploy staff. The crisis framework was a developed as a response to Hurricane Katrina, and gives a roadmap for health providers dealing with disasters.