It’s been two years since the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, a 250-bed field hospital that was first stood up in March 2020 to treat COVID-19 patients, began serving as a COVID-19 testing site for Baltimoreans.
Since then, the site, which is jointly operated by Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical System, has undergone a series of changes.
In early 2021, the field hospital, like many testing facilities, took on the additional duty of distributing vaccines. Then, last November, the field hospital’s testing and vaccination efforts were moved into State Center, a dilapidated complex of government buildings in Midtown Baltimore. In total, the BCCFH and State Center testing sites have administered over 135,000 PCR tests since June 2020.
Most recently, State Center became a “test-to-treat” facility in early May, as part of a federal program to provide individuals who test positive for COVID-19 with quick and easy access to treatment.
Test-to-treat facilities refer to COVID-19 testing site that allows individuals to receive a clinical evaluation and an oral medication called Paxlovid — a series of pills that helps prevent high-risk individuals from developing severe disease — on-site after receiving a positive COVID-19 rapid test, for free.
There are dozens of test-to-treat centers throughout Maryland, many of which are housed in CVS Pharmacies and urgent care clinics.
“If patients are interested in treatment, while they’re waiting for the rapid test, they determine whether they’re eligible. So, you have to have certain high-risk factors, and you’re not on certain meds,” said Chuck Callahan, the director of the BCCFH Task Force, the team that stood up the field hospital and continues to operate the State Center facility and an outpatient COVID-19 treatment facility in at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s downtown campus.
“If the test is positive, they have an interview from a nurse and then from a provider, and the provider walks over to the pharmacist, gets the Paxlovid medicine, and gives it to the patient.”
Clinicians may also redirect patients towards other treatment options, like monoclonal antibody infusion, if Paxlovid isn’t recommended. Patients can also opt for monoclonal antibody treatment rather than taking Paxlovid, Callahan said.
Since becoming designated as a test-to-treat facility, the State Center site has distributed 121 courses of Paxlovid.
White House officials visited the facility Friday, on the two-year anniversary of the field hospital beginning to administer tests, as part of the Biden administration’s effort to visit test-to-treat centers throughout the nation.
During the visit, Matthew Hepburn, senior adviser to director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for pandemic preparedness, lauded Maryland’s front-line health care employees for the work they have done throughout the pandemic.
He also said that the state was “prepared” for any future challenges the pandemic brings.
“Maryland’s ready,” he said, specifically referring to the rollout of vaccinations for children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, which were recently given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
“I think we can see that on this issue, and really any other issue, in terms of, ‘what do we need to do next to address this pandemic?’ Remember, this is unpredictable and it’s hard to know what the future is going to hold. What we’ve seen today, from this Maryland team, is that they are prepared.”