Maryland governor thanks Korea for coronavirus test kits

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Maryland governor thanks Korea for coronavirus test kits

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that his state acquired 500,000 coronavirus tests from Korea to drastically ramp up its testing capacity, crediting his first lady’s diplomacy with Seoul for the successful procurement.

A chartered Korean Air flight landed at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Saturday carrying 500,000 test kits from LabGenomics, a Korean biotech company, which will enable the state to test half a million people amid the coronavirus pandemic. This marked the first-ever direct flight from Incheon to the airport, and the kits were received personally by the governor and his wife Yumi Hogan, the first Korean-American first lady of a U.S. state.

Gov. Hogan said in a press briefing in Annapolis, Maryland, Monday that the tests, which cost about $9 million, represent an “exponential, game-changing step forward” in his state’s large-scale testing initiative. He stressed that the successful procurement was due to Maryland’s “special relationship with South Korea.”

Hogan, a Republican and the chairman of the National Governors Association, dubbed the project “Operation Enduring Friendship,” and acknowledged that Yumi Hogan played a pivotal role, calling her the true “champion of this operation.”

His first lady, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Korea’s South Jeolla region, made active efforts to acquire the test kits by reaching out to Korean Ambassador to the United States Lee Soo-hyuk last month. While she is an artist, not a diplomat or politician, the first lady called Ambassador Lee on March 28 and since then has used her Korean heritage and language skills to speed along her state’s efforts to expand its Covid-19 testing capability.

Gov. Hogan described that the deal is the result of 22 days of vetting, testing and negotiations between Maryland’s doctors and scientists, state agencies and their counterparts in Korea and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He expressed “incredible debt of gratitude” to Korea to put his state on track to achieving its testing goals, saying the successful operation will “literally help save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

“We’ve been doing everything in our power to acquire more tests from the federal government,” said Hogan. “Unfortunately, we have also had to compete with every state in America in our attempts to procure the tests from every domestic producer in the U.S. and from sources around the globe.”

“I want to sincerely thank our South Korean partners for assisting us in our fight against this common, hidden enemy,” he added.

The governor said that President Moon Jae-in has previously referred to him as a sawi, Korean for “son-in-law,” and “Maryland is proud to have such a special bond with South Korea.”

Maryland as of Monday had more than 13,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and 516 reported deaths. However, the state has only administered about 71,000 tests, according to data.

Hogan said he hopes for Maryland to eventually get up to 20,000 tests a day.

He said that the 500,000 test capacity “is equal to the total amount of testing that has been completed by four of the top five states in America combined.”

But U.S. President Donald Trump shot back Monday in a press briefing saying plenty of test kits were available and that governors were given a list of testing labs available in each state.

“The governor of Maryland could’ve called [U.S. Vice President] Mike Pence, could’ve saved a lot of money,” Trump said. “I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge.”

However, Hogan’s spokesman said that the Maryland governor had last month in a letter to the president “specifically asked” for a federal testing site in the National Capital Region.

Hogan tweeted Monday evening that he is “grateful” to Trump for “generously offering Maryland use of” federal labs for testing and added, “Accessing these federal labs will be critical for utilizing the 500,000 tests we have acquired from South Korea.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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