Maryland obtained half a million coronavirus tests — and had to get them all the way from South Korea

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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan speaks during the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding between Maryland and Kanagawa, at Maryland’s State Capitol, in Annapolis, Md., Monday, July 15, 2019. Jose Luis Magana/AP
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state had obtained 5,000 test kits to detect the novel coronavirus from a laboratory in South Korea.
  • The operation, which took weeks of negotiations with Korean and U.S. officials, will allow Maryland to issue 500,000 tests, Hogan said.
  • Hogan, a Republican, is just one of several governors who have complained about the federal government’s inability to distribute enough coronavirus tests to accurately detect and track the outbreak. The procurement yet again demonstrates the extreme lengths states have to go through in order to obtain necessary equipment to combat the virus.
  • Maryland’s First Lady, Yumi Hogan, is a Korean immigrant and played an instrumental role in obtaining the tests by negotiating with two different labs in South Korea.
  • Gov. Hogan, a Republican who once reportedly weighed a primary challenge to President Trump, has not held back in criticising the administration’s response to the crisis.
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Amid a sustained national shortage of coronavirus tests, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan finally managed to find some – about 7,000 miles away.

The governor, a Republican, announced on Monday that he had secured thousands of test kits from a laboratory in South Korea, which landed at BWI Marshal Airport in Baltimore on Saturday. Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan, a Korean immigrant and fluent speaker, played a key role in hammering out a deal with South Korea to obtain the tests.

The initiative, dubbed “Operation Enduring Friendship,” will allow Maryland to issue 500,000 tests, Hogan said at a press conference on Monday. He called it an “exponential, game changing step forward,” that would help save thousands of Marylanders.

Hogan said he hoped testing would begin immediately, but because processing tests requires certain facilities and equipment, he conceded that “it’s going to take a while to ramp up all of the things that we need to utilise all this.”

Maryland’s saga to obtain more tests for its citizens underscores the drastic lengths to which states have to go to obtain viable tests for the coronavirus, even as the White House released an ambitious roadmap for lifting social distancing measures that relies heavily on identifying coronavirus infections on a mass scale.

The state’s efforts began on March 28, Hogan said. What ensued was “22 straight days” of negotiations with the South Korean government, as well as the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Customs and Border Protection. Yumi Hogan worked late into the night on calls to help facilitate conversations between the Maryland government and stakeholders in South Korea, her husband said.

On Saturday, a Korean Air flight touched down at BWI with no passengers, but a precious cargo of 5,000 test kits produced by Lab Genome laboratory in South Korea.

At the time of Hogan’s announcement, Maryland had recorded a total of 13,684 COVID-19 cases and 516 deaths.

As of Monday afternoon, the state has conducted more than 71,000 tests over the course of the outbreak, according to The Atlantic’s COVID-19 Tracking Project. Nearly 3.9 million tests have been conducted across the entire U.S. country since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

But health experts say that America needs to be testing potentially millions of people – both symptomatic and asymptomatic – each week in order to accurately understand the scope of the virus’ spread. Only then, these experts say, will it be safe to consider lifting stay at home orders, non-essential business closures, and other social distancing measures that have helped blunt the impact of the virus but have caused widespread economic devastation.

Governors like Hogan have raised concerns that they did not yet have enough testing capacity to begin thinking about the reopening process.

“The administration I think is trying to ramp up testing, they are doing some things with respect to private labs. But to try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just to get to work on testing, somehow we are not doing our job – is just absolutely false,” Hogan said on Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.

Hogan said Monday that he hoped to meet an ambitious target of conducting 20,000 tests a day in his state.

On March 30, Hogan officially ordered residents to stay at home unless conducting essential tasks like shopping for food or medicine or caring for pets. Violators could face misdemeanour charges, and be fined or face jail time. Two neighbouring jurisdictions – the state of Virginia, and the District of Columbia – quickly followed suit.