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Fulton begins limited drive-thru specimen collection; COVID-19 confirmations to rise

Maggie Lee
A closeup picture of the covid virus

By Maggie Lee

Fulton is opening a drive-through location for collecting possible COVID-19 specimens Wednesday — only for people who have symptoms and were sent by their doctors.

The location is secret to preserve the confidentiality of clients, said Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford, head of the county’s public health district. But she also said it’s secret so the public won’t drive up and ask for tests that the county can’t provide.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point in Fulton County certainly where every individual who desires a test will be able to acquire it,” Ford said, giving an update to the Fulton County Commission Wednesday morning.

Testing capacity is extremely limited. For example, according to a statewide running tally of tests, about 1,500 COVID-19 tests had occurred through Wednesday at noon.

The state received 500 test kits yesterday. Ford estimated Fulton’s share at less than 30 of those, thought the county also has the ability to send specimens to additional labs.

Each lab has different requirements and costs, and the total price isn’t worked out yet. But she expects that testing capacity will grow.

Ford said she would like to make special testing concessions for first responders who may not have time to visit a doctor. The next level of priority would be people who work in elder care facilities.

And people who are homeless are at high risk of catching anything that spreads because of tight, shared conditions in shelters and under bridges. Ford said the county and partners are in talks about where homeless folks with symptoms might be able to isolate.

Commissioner Marvin Arrington said they need immediate use of the (nearly empty) Atlanta City Detention Center for a quarantine location.

Ford said all options are on the table and she didn’t rule out a jail — though Fulton doesn’t own Atlanta’s jail and couldn’t unilaterally start using it.  But the shared bathroom and shower situation isn’t good in a jail; nor are the optics. Ford said a hotel would be ideal.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Tuesday that one person in a homeless shelter has tested positive for COVID-19, and that a service provider is opening places for homeless people to be in quarantine.

“We have an angel amongst us who’s offered several apartment units to allow us to do that,” Bottoms said in a V-103 interview.

Meanwhile, Fulton has about 2,800 people in close quarters in its own jails.

Jail staff and everyone who is getting booked is getting “screened,” said Alton Adams, Fulton’s deputy COO for public safety.

“Screening” is checking vital signs and asking about travel history, not testing for COVID-19. Adams said that the jail manager is in the process of isolating individuals who come into the jail for some amount of time.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, Georgia had 182 confirmed COVID-19 cases; 44 of them were in Fulton. By noon, the number of Fulton confirmed cases had ticked up to 49.

“As testing becomes more widely available, expect those numbers to increase dramatically,” Ford said.

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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