Maryland National Guard Reports for COVID-19 Duty at Meritus Testing Clinic

Daniel Marsh, a member of the Maryland National Guard, peered over the shoulder of trainer Brenda Myers, learning how to put patients through the process of a COVID-19 test.

A few weeks ago, Marsh had been at the drive-thru testing center at 13620 Crayton Blvd. as a patient, going through a test himself. On Wednesday, he was one of several guard members who were learning how to help Meritus administer those tests to others.

"They asked for volunteers," Marsh said of the assignment.

Marsh, who lives off Pennsylvania Avenue south of the clinic, said he would help. He is among 20 guard members assigned to Meritus.

On Jan. 4, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency because of the surge in cases. Under that order, he mobilized 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to help state and local health officials.

At the time, Hogan said Maryland had reached a record high 3,057 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with more on the way.

'Getting the patients through quickly'

Myers, a trainer in patient access at Meritus, was teaching guard members how to register patients on the health system's computer system Wednesday morning.

She said the additional people power also is needed in some other ways.

"They're going to help us with our backlog of scanning," she said.

Meritus has been testing nearly 1,000 people a day in recent weeks. Putting that many people through the process has led to a backlog of paper records that must be scanned into the digital system.

"Our main concern was getting the patients through quickly, getting them tested," Myers said.

'We'll leverage anybody to help the clinical team'

"This is the first day of training and, as you can tell, they're amazing," said Maulik Joshi, Meritus president and CEO. "They jump in, and they'll be out of training pretty quickly."

Meritus has been operating the COVID-19 drive-thru center on Crayton Boulevard for almost two years, Joshi said, sometimes putting 1,000 cars a day through the process.

The guard members will "help us make it even more efficient. So get more people through, get them through faster here at the drive-thru. So they'll work on registration, registering people. They'll observe people ...  swabbing their noses and help get that done.

"And then we're also going to take advantage and use their incredible skill set in the hospital. So we're talking about doing things like meal trays, potentially being sitters with patients if we need to. So again, we'll leverage anybody to help the clinical team and that's that's a goal and so that's why we're thankful that they're willing to do that," Joshi said.

Joshi noted that guard members have been sent to other health facilities throughout the state, and that health officials are grateful for the help.

He said the guard members' roles at Meritus also could evolve during the coming days, depending upon the COVID-19 numbers and patients' needs.

250,000 tests and counting

Since the start of the pandemic, thousands of people have been needing tests at the drive-thru testing center.

The clinic was set up in March 2020. On Wednesday afternoon, Meritus announced it had passed a milestone of administering 250,000 tests there.

“We knew that testing would play an integral role in our response against COVID-19,” Joshi said in a news release announcing the milestone “I could not have imagined in those early days how great the need would become, and would continue to be, nearly two years later.”

The teams at the Meritus drive-thru center have collected more than 80% of the 250,000 tests.

“To put the number 250,000 into perspective, roughly 150,000 people live in Washington County,” Joshi said. “You would be hard pressed to find more health systems in our nation that have provided more COVID-19 tests than the number of people served. For our health system to offer that volume of testing, since the onset of this pandemic, is just incredible. We committed to offer free, convenient testing when the pandemic began. To honor that commitment has meant countless hours of teams braving all weather conditions, coordination on many levels and an all-around strong dedication to the health of this community.”

This week, Meritus Health announced an updated traffic pattern because of volumes in the past month. The updated route takes cars from Interstate 81 to Showalter Road to Crayton Boulevard.

New testing procedure for surgery patients

Meritus also announced a new testing procedure for surgery patients. It's designed so those patients will not have to use the drive-thru clinic.

Patients scheduled for a surgical service procedure who meet the criteria for a COVID-19 test now may report to Meritus Medical Laboratory at 247 Eastern Blvd., in the Kensington Center, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, instead of the drive-thru testing center on Crayton Boulevard.

According to the announcement, Meritus teams have worked with medical providers to make sure they understand the order information needed for this process.

"This change is to help patients have the right options for testing at the right time and should help alleviate the lines at the drive-thru," the announcement reads. "It also helps ensure surgical patients are able to get test results in the correct timeframe to not delay the care they need."

This article first published in The Herald-Mail and online at in January 2022.