By Jenna Portnoy, Rachel Chason and Kyle Swenson
March 17, 2020 at 10:18 p.m. EDT

As the number of Washington-area residents testing positive for the novel coronavirus climbs, hospitals are racing to enact a two-pronged strategy — expand testing capability and free up beds — in preparation for what could be a months-long response to the global pandemic.

Montgomery County hospitals are installing treatment and triage tents. Kaiser Permanente set up five drive-through testing sites in Maryland and Virginia for patients who have a prescription, and Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington and a health-care system in Hampton Roads, Va., are testing people via drive-through if they meet certain criteria.

Providers also are encouraging “virtual visits” to prevent the spread of the virus among the general population and medical community.

But as residents continue to struggle to access tests they say they need, medical experts in the Washington area and across the nation warn that the lack of adequate testing materials, limited supplies of personal protective equipment and too few beds mean the country is probably facing a dangerous situation.

There will be a bed shortage if the pandemic worsens, despite Maryland’s efforts to prepare for an influx of patients all at once, said Gene Ransom, chief executive of the Maryland State Medical Society.

“The biggest thing is: How big is the surge?” he said.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday that Maryland will repurpose vehicle inspection program sites as drive-through testing centers, but testing will not begin until labs have the capability to actually run the tests. Otherwise, it would create “false hope,” he said.

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