Washington County and state health officials are encouraging local residents to report positive COVID-19 results from home tests through a new online reporting system the state set up.
Letting state officials know about positive results will help with contact tracing and determining the community's transmission rate, said Danielle Stahl, spokeswoman for the Washington County Health Department.
The Washington County Free Library also will be changing the way it distributes free at-home test kits it receives from the health department, focusing distributions on Saturdays when kits are available.
The Maryland Department of Health launched a weblink about two weeks ago for people to report positive COVID-19 test results from at-home tests. The link is through the state's online OneStop hub for state permit and application forms. Visit onestop.md.gov and search for "COVID."
The county health department also has a link to the state reporting site through its website about COVID-19 testing and will be updating its webpage, washcohealth.org, with more information about home tests, Stahl said.
As of Monday, 1,372 positive tests, including 44 from Washington County residents, have been reported through the portal, according to state health department spokesman Andy Owen.
Free test kits
The public has been able to buy home test kits for months, but free public distribution of the kits has been emphasized in recent weeks as cases have risen dramatically with the easier transmissibility of the omicron variant.
The Biden Administration went live Jan. 18 with COVIDTests.gov so people can order four free tests through the mail.
The U.S. Postal Service will start shipping tests ordered through that website in late January, with shipping expected to take a week to 12 days, according to its website. The site also has instructions for formatting your address if you live in an apartment and how to file a service request if you live in multiunit building and are having difficulty placing an order for test kits. In some cases, an issue can pop up if someone in another apartment has already ordered tests because the postal service doesn't always recognize the apartment as a single residence address within the building.
The county health department began distributing home test kits, which it received through the state, on Nov. 15. Those kits have been given to organizations that help at-risk communities like the homeless and low-income populations, as well as to the public library system to distribute to the public, Stahl said.
As of Monday, the health department had received and distributed 4,746 rapid test kits, Stahl wrote in an email. County health officials expect to receive their next batch of test kits this week. The kits also will include masks to distribute to the public. When it gets the masks and kits, the department will announce more information and is planning to use the library system to distribute the masks as well, she said.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Jan. 13 that the state health department would start distributing 20 million N95 and KN95 masks to Marylanders at no cost, through multiple sources including local health departments, state-run testing and vaccination sites, and nursing homes.
The N95 and KN95 masks "provide additional infection protection compared to cloth and general use face masks," according to a news release from the governor's office.
The library did not have any test kits left as of Monday, according to a message on its phone system.
Sarah Nadeau, community partnerships librarian, said Washington County Free Library is changing the way the at-home test kits will be distributed with the next batch it gets.
Instead of calling the library to reserve kits, the kits will be distributed first-come, first-serve during certain hours on Saturdays when tests are available, Nadeau said. This is to give staff a chance to focus on just passing out kits and to give people who work during the week an opportunity to pick up tests, she said.
Nadeau said she did not know, as of Monday morning, if kits will be available this Saturday. Staff organizes the kits into bags with instructions.
When the library system is ready to distribute the kits on a Saturday, the Boonsboro, Hancock, Smithsburg and Williamsport libraries will close for regular business from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. and the downtown Hagerstown library will close from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. During those times, staff will distribute the bags of kits outdoors, perhaps on the library's front porch, Nadeau said.
Taking home tests and what to do if it's positive
Read the at-home test kit instructions thoroughly, Stahl said. Make sure to swab your nose per instructions to get enough specimen for the test, she said.
Also, some people might not take the second test in the kit as they should, Stahl said. Because the home antigen tests aren't as sensitive as PCR tests, people should wait at least 24 hours but no more than 48 hours to take the second test in the kit, she said. The first result could be a false negative. There might not have been enough virus in the system for the antigen test to detect it the first time, she said.
The Maryland OneStop reporting system states that positive results to be reported are from at-home tests taken within the past 10 days.
When a positive result is reported through OneStop, the resident will receive guidance about isolating and a personalized web survey link or phone call with more instructions.
The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that someone who tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, should isolate at home for at least five days depending on their symptoms.
If you test positive and don't have symptoms, isolate for five full days.
If you test positive and have symptoms, isolation can end after five full days if symptoms are improving and you have been fever free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medication.
If you test positive and were severely ill with COVID-19, isolate for at least 10 days and consult your doctor before ending isolation.
Everyone who tests positive is to continue taking precautions through day 10. That includes wearing a mask, avoiding travel and avoiding people who are at high risk.
"At this point, we suggest everyone wear a mask anytime they are outside of those inside their household," Stahl said. People should mask up everywhere, but especially indoors, she said.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Washington County health officials encourage reporting positive tests