ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers renewed criticism Friday of Gov. Larry Hogan’s April procurement of 500,000 COVID-19 tests from South Korea after The Washington Post reported the first batch was flawed and never used, but the governor defended the tests.
Hogan told The Associated Press that the first batch of tests he purchased with great fanfare from South Korea had to be replaced.
“We brought the tests in,” Hogan said. “When they first got back, the FDA changed the emergency use authorization at the last minute, so we had to switch out and upgrade to a different set of tests, which we then brought in. There’ve been no problems with these tests whatsoever.”
It was unclear what Food and Drug Administration change Hogan was referring to. The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Post reported that Hogan spent about $9.5 million in state funding on the initial tests. The Republican governor then quietly paid a South Korean company $2.5 million for 500,000 replacement tests, the newspaper reported.
Lawmakers say they still don’t have the answers they have been looking for, after months of asking the administration.
“I think we are weighing the possibility of having further hearings to understand what happened here,” said Sen. Clarence Lam, a Howard County Democrat who is a doctor at Johns Hopkins.
Hogan initially announced the first procurement at a highly publicized news conference on the lawn of the governor’s residence at a time when states were scrambling to find tests. Hogan’s Korean-born wife Yumi was instrumental in helping to negotiate for the tests.
As time passed without tests being used, lawmakers began asking questions.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, have repeatedly asked for more details about the procurement. During public meetings with the administration, lawmakers have questioned why they couldn’t get answers to their questions, specifically about how many of the tests had been used.
Lawmakers said Friday they felt misled by the administration.
“They knew that they actually had to spend more money to be able to correct the problems that they had with these tests, and yet they were not forthcoming with that information either, despite multiple opportunities to inform the General Assembly and the public,” Lam said.
Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat who chairs the House Health and Government Operations Committee, said she believes “the administration has been lying to us through this process.”
“Do I feel like I can now trust anything that the governor’s office says? No,” Pendergrass said Friday.
Hogan told the AP on Friday that the tests have been “the cornerstone of our testing strategy.”
“They’ve saved lives,” Hogan said.
The governor said the state is getting close to having used 400,000 of the tests.
“We’re going to use them all in the next month or so,” Hogan said.
Separately, a report by federal and state inspectors found that a University of Maryland lab had several problems with how it was processing the tests from South Korea. The report, obtained by The Baltimore Sun through public records request, was deone by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality into complaints from nursing homes about a spate of false positive results in September.
While the report did not blame or clear the lab or the tests for those results, it pointed to instances in which the lab could have compromised specimens by not following the testing handbook to keep specimens cool and follow expiration dates of testing materials.