Cases of COVID-19 have continued to surge at immense levels across the United States. In Maryland specifically, the Department of Health paused reporting for December 31 and January 1. However, the latest numbers reported on Thursday demonstrate over 14,000 new cases (a single-day increase record) with hospitalizations totaling past 2,100.
Experts have issued a warning stating that this new surge, likely a result of the new Omicron variant, could persist for weeks.
The nation as a whole broke its record of daily COVID-19 cases during the first week of the New Year; averaging more than 355,000 infections reported per day in accordance with data issued by Johns Hopkins University.
Receiving proper tests for the virus has proven problematic for Marylanders with many struggling to either wait in very long lines or find any available locations offering the service at all.
"We had two members of my family take an at-home rapid test and it came back positive and we have not been able to find more rapid tests." - Renee Sullivan, Annapolis
It is critical for readers to note the key difference between rapid tests able to be taken at home and the dedicated NAAT/PCR tests performed by medical professionals at local pharmacies.
In accordance with data issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) is a form of viral diagnostics used to identify the sequences of RNA that comprise the virus's genetic material. The key method used by the NAAT test to amplify the acid and detect symptoms of the virus includes what is known as Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), hence why in general it is commonly referred to as NAAT/PCR.
Due to the more sophisticated and in-depth analysis implemented in this method of testing, the turnaround time is longer than that of a rapid take-home test. Furthermore, as a result of the increased sensitivity, they are more than capable of confirming the results of tests with lesser sensitivity, such as those found in antigen-based tests.
Similar to the NAAT/PCR test, the rapid take-home tests, which can be purchased at local pharmacies, collect specimen data from the upper respiratory region of the body; specifically through the nasal cavities via an elongated cotton swab that requires 15-second rotations in each before placing into a tube containing a small puddle of liquid to preserve the sample. Unfortunately, these diagnostics only verify symptoms of the virus through antigens, which reduce the likelihood of correctly discovering an active infection in comparison to molecular-based tests.
As the NAAT/PCR test has become the mandated layman for the majority of airports and other travel destinations, it is the far more popular alternative despite the extended verification period, hence why so many wait in lines at local pharmacies.
At the Anne Arundel Medical Center, a new testing site was opened on New Year's Eve to meet growing demand. Sadly, many claimed that they had to wait hours to even get the test.
"This line wraps all through this garage." - Chanda Anderson, local resident
"The line was pretty long. Never saw the beginning of it, kind of stumbled upon the end of it." - Justin Magno, local resident
The state health department opened an additional site in Bel Air at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.
Each of the sites is scheduled to remain open 7 days a week between the working hours of 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Unlike the majority of local pharmacies that require prior appointments to be scheduled for drive-thru testing, these new sites only accept walk-ups.