Motorists await free coronavirus testing at the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Station in Hyattsville, Maryland, on May 22, the first day of testing at the location. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Motorists await free coronavirus testing at the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Station in Hyattsville, Maryland, on May 22, the first day of testing at the location. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

On the first day the state of Maryland transformed a Hyattsville vehicle emissions station into a free drive-thru coronavirus testing site, hundreds of motorists waited patiently to get screened.

One day earlier in Langley Park, thousands of residents lined up to receive hot meals and produce from World Central Kitchen.

Those two situations amplify why Prince George’s County Council member Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi isn’t ready to reopen some businesses. Besides the county having the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland, the zip code of 20783 in her district (Langley Park, Chillum and portions of Hyattsville) has recorded the most cases in the state.

Her district in the northern part of Prince George’s is the most densely populated and houses the county’s largest Latino constituency.

“I do not believe we are ready in my district,” she said Friday, May 22. “Not many people have money to put in their [gas] tank, to ride a bus, or take a cab to go get tested. Resources are sorely needed in the district and the county.”

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks proposes a “modified reopening” of the majority-Black jurisdiction by Monday, June 1 if certain criteria such as positive cases, hospitalizations and death rates remain flat or decrease.

During a briefing with the county council on May 19, Alsobrooks said even if businesses gradually reopen, some safety measures may remain in place for quite some time.

“I don’t think we are going to do away with facial coverings for the rest of the year,” she said.

The county proposes to open testing sites at four other locations — the Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center in Chillum, the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center, the D. Leonard Dyer Regional Health Center in Clinton and the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.

Another possibility would be to provide bus transportation from Langley Park to a testing site.

That still doesn’t satisfy Taveras, who challenged Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to reopen the state as the number confirmed cases continues to rise.

Federal officials said Friday the Washington and Baltimore regions lead the nation’s metropolitan areas in confirmed cases.

The positivity rate in Maryland hovers around 19 percent, compared to other urban regions averaging about 10 percent.

As of Friday, the Johns Hopkins University data tracker listed the state as having the 10th most confirmed cases nationwide.

During that same time frame, Prince George’s had the 25th highest amount of confirmed cases in the country.

Hogan still decided to allow all 24 jurisdictions to reopen certain businesses due to a decrease in hospitalizations and expanded testing and personal protective equipment.

On Friday, Hogan announced three COVID-19 testing sites at Walmart stores in Dorchester, Wicomico and Frederick counties.

Hogan already authorized for almost 1,200 pharmacies to order and administer tests.

Rite Aid will provide COVID-19 testing in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

Eligible residents will be able to receive free testing at one of 17 CVS Pharmacies, including four in Prince George’s County.

The state plans to open and transform another vehicle emissions site this week in Clinton and open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.

“As Maryland continues to dramatically expand testing availability and broaden the criteria for COVID-19 testing statewide, we are excited to be forging new partnerships with private sector companies like Walmart,” Hogan said in a statement. “With the addition of test sites at some of our Walmart stores, we are continuing to make significant progress on our long-term testing strategy for the state.”

Although Taveras supports more testing for residents in Prince George’s, she said the county needs more money to combat the virus.

The state and local governments received an estimated $2.3 billion in coronavirus relief aid.
About $1 billion was designated for jurisdictions with at least 500,000 or more residents. Montgomery County received the highest amount, estimated at $183 million, followed by Prince George’s County at $158 million. The other three jurisdictions are Baltimore County ($144 billion), Baltimore City ($104 million) and Anne Arundel County ($101 million).

Taveras estimates the state still has $691 million left in stimulus funding, so she said the county needs $200 million from that pot, being the hardest-hit area in the D.C. region. She said the funding would go toward rigorous contact tracing, antibody testing, housing and utility assistance, establishing quarantine locations in overcrowded housing and helping small businesses.

“If we just follow this Republican mantra of opening up, what we’re going to do is continue to elongate this closure in getting more people sick than necessary,” she said. “We need to follow the steps of other countries that have done it successfully like New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea … and not just follow the politics.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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