Maryland authorities were so concerned about the federal government seizing a shipment of COVID-19 tests destined for the state that they made special arrangements to receive and guard the tests until they could be distributed, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Thursday.
Hogan cited the fate of 3 million N95 masks purchased by the state of Massachusetts — all of which were confiscated in March by the federal government at the port of New York — as the main reason for taking extra precautions to secure his state’s order of 500,000 COVID-19 testing kits from South Korea.
“That was so important to us that we wanted to make sure that plane took off from Korea safely, landed here in America safely and that we guarded that cargo from whoever might interfere with us getting that to our folks that need it,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post.
The tests, worth over $9 million, were directed last week to Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport instead of Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, and both the Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police were on hand to receive the shipment and transport the tests to a secure, undisclosed location, he said.
“It was like Fort Knox to us,” the Republican governor said in the interview, referring to the secure Army post in Kentucky, where a large portion of U.S. gold bullion is stored.
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Despite the successful procurement operation, Maryland authorities have not been able to take advantage of their expanded testing capabilities, citing regulatory hurdles and supply shortages, including a dearth of nasal swabs and viral transport media, according to a Washington Post report.
Hogan on Wednesday, though, said the state had made “progress with respect to increasing lab capacity and the supply of materials” and described for the first time his plan for using those half-million South Korean COVID-19 tests.
In a press conference, Hogan said the state was “exponentially” expanding its testing capabilities, focusing on “high-priority outbreaks and clusters,” including health care workers, first responders and poultry processing facilities. Hogan ordered universal testing for nursing home residents and staff following data that showed such facilities accounted for almost half of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
“We are going on offense against this virus attacking it from every angle with everything we’ve got,” he said.