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Maggie Lee Columns

Georgia has COVID testing capacity, leaders urge people to get tested

Maggie Lee
Brian Kemp at a podum
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp at the Capitol on April 27. Credit: screenshot

By Maggie Lee

Georgians who have even mild COVID-19 symptoms can and should get tested, say Georgia’s governor and its top public health official.

“If you’re feeling bad, if you have those symptoms that I went over … body pain, cough, fever … all those seven or eight new criteria that are out, you need to go and get the Augusta University app, or go on their website or call that number” (844) 442-2681 for the Department of Public Health, said Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday. “And let us find you a location close to where you are so you can go get tested.”

The app and website link Georgians to free online screening for COVID-19 and gives the addresses and hours of testing sites.

“I can’t say more about the importance of getting the word out,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the Georgia Commissioner of Public Health, also at the Atlanta press conference on Monday.

“Now’s the time, we have the availability, we want to provide this opportunity to everyone who wants to test in Georgia, and has even mild symptoms,” Toomey said.

In Dawsonville, Decatur and at Georgia State University testing sites, Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden said he saw plenty of excess capacity on Monday.

Testing is now open to people who have mild symptoms as well as to asymptomatic health care workers, first responders and other people whose work puts them at elevated risk, like nursing home employees.

That’s a change from six weeks ago, when Fulton’s public health director had to keep a county drive-thru testing site secret so it wouldn’t be overrun with demands for tests that nobody could supply.

Kemp said that there’s more capacity in private labs to test samples, as states’ labs increase their own testing capacity.

About 24,200 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19 through Monday afternoon, according to the state. African-Americans are hit hardest, with about 8,500 of the positive cases. White people had about 6,600 of the positive cases, though they outnumber black Georgians. But racial data is missing for thousands of cases.

Kemp’s press conference came the same day that theaters and restaurants are being allowed to reopen. Salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and some other businesses were allowed to reopen Friday, under guidance Kemp announced last week.

Criticism was loud and immediate from people like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who told Good Morning America “there is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley or getting a manicure in the middle of a pandemic.”

To the extent that there’s been any relief in the state, it’s because of people staying home or practicing social distancing, Bottoms said.

Several other Georgia mayors piled on and asked residents to stay home.

Even President Donald Trump said he disagreed with Kemp’s reopening schedule. (Though the president had praised it the day before.)

But Kemp has a record as a fiscally conservative, small-government elected official. And now he’s faced with an economy that’s falling off a cliff. So his policy should be no surprise.

On Monday, he painted work as a potential savior, not a potential danger.

“I simply gave people the opportunity that literally were on the verge, many of them, of losing everything that they got … I’m thinking about that, like where are we going to house all those people if they get kicked out of their apartment? How are we going to get those people to work when we do reopen if they’ve had a car repossessed?” Kemp said.

Fulton is among the counties where residential evictions are on pause because courts are closed. (Though private servers can still serve paperwork.)  Evictions are also on pause at publicly subsidized housing.

Meanwhile, at the press conference, Kemp also said his emergency management director Homer Bryson had gotten a haircut in the last few days. Kemp said the stylist had to get back to work because she was about to lose her car. Kemp said he supports people who don’t want to reopen their businesses yet, but also those that do.

The public health commissioner, Dr. Toomey, said two people on her team had gotten haircuts too.

But the doctor herself hadn’t.

Documents:

Augusta University’s referrals to free virtual screening

County health department phone numbers and websites as of April 25, 2020.  (This contact information may be updated. Check with the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website for any updates.)

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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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