By Maria Saporta
Testing, testing, testing.
One of the keys to fighting the coronavirus pandemic is to expand testing so people can know whether they need to be quarantined and so public health officials can keep track of the spread of the disease.
Leaders in Atlanta’s philanthropic community realized there was not adequate testing – especially among workers on the front lines – whether in healthcare or the service industry.
“Part of the role of the private sector and philanthropic sector is to be able to use their flexibility and nimbleness to rapidly respond to this crisis,” said Frank Fernandez, a senior vice president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. “We wanted to support these testing efforts, especially in more vulnerable communities.”
The Blank Foundation partnered with CORE, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit started by actor Sean Penn, as well as Mercedes-Benz Stadium (part of the AMB Sports and Entertainment group).
A free testing center opened last Thursday at the Home Depot Backyard, and it will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for the foreseeable future.
Fernandez said the initiative came out of a collaborative effort among dozens of local philanthropic and civic partners (Partners Response Working Group) that convene virtually at least on a weekly basis.
The partners seek to communicate and coordinate their efforts to decide how they can be helpful and what are the emerging needs.
“We began seeing the need for testing in the community,” said Fernandez, adding that the foundation and its partners “have a disproportionate interest in vulnerable communities. What can we do to ensure access?”
After getting to know of CORE’s efforts in Los Angeles and of the nonprofit’s interest to expand in Atlanta and other communities around the country, the foundation began scouting locations. It didn’t have to go far.
“We’ve been looking for ways on how to leverage the stadium during this time,” Fernandez said. “We’ve been providing 2,000 meals a week out of our kitchen for frontline healthcare workers.”
The Home Depot Backyard (adjacent to stadium) was a good location for both drive-through and walk-up testing. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium also contributed the location at no charge.
The Blank Foundation also has made a grant of $210,000 for the testing site. Currently, the site is only conducting tests for the COVID-19 virus. But that could change to also include antibody testing, which would measure whether people had already had the virus and had the antibodies that possibly would make them immune from getting infected with the virus.
“It’s an issue of infrastructure and delivery,” Fernandez said. “We will seek guidance from the CDC and public health officials. Right now, the big push is for COVID testing. But you want to have infrastructure that would allow us to do both.”
The testing site is aimed at serving frontline workers and populations who are most vulnerable. The testing site would be able to do as many as 1,000 tests a day.
“CORE’s experience is that it builds up slowly over the first week as the word gets out to the public.”
Several other free testing sites are also being established throughout the metro area.
Register at https://www.coreresponse.org/covid19-atlanta to get an appointment time. For the health and safety of the medical team and others coming to get tested, people are being asked to pre-register. People also can call the COVID hotline at Good Samaritan Health Center Atlanta at 404-523-6571, ext 4928, If someone tests positive for the virus, medical personnel will be on-site to provide counsel.
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