ATLANTA — The state will extend COVID-19 testing to a larger group of people after Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday low testing numbers “frustrate Georgians and state leaders alike.”
Under new guidelines, critical infrastructure workers who are symptomatic as well as asymptomatic people who have had contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus will be able to get tested more easily.
Before Monday, testing has been prioritized for the elderly, individuals with chronic illnesses, health care workers, law enforcement and long-term care facility residents and staff. The state is broadening the criteria with hopes of curbing the expected hospital surge.
“Despite our partnerships and undeniable progress, our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag,” Kemp said Monday during a press conference. “As I've said before the status quo is unacceptable.”
Kemp said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, has urged public health district officials to collect more specimens and process more tests. Health department officials are encouraged to schedule Georgians who need to be tested directly through local health districts.
“We need to be firing on all cylinders to prepare for the days and weeks ahead,” he said.
Toomey said she is aware of Georgia’s stark rankings in the number of people tested.
“I, too, have seen the reports that we're number 45 out of 50 states in terms of our number tested,” she said. “We know we need to ramp that up and ramp that up quickly.”
Toomey said along with the state, hospitals have increased their testing capacity — the combination will hopefully be effective in mitigating some spread. All of the state’s health districts have multiple testing sites, she said, more than 34, with more expected by the end of the week.
Toomey said the state has made it too difficult to receive tests at sites run by public health districts.
“We recognize that we had probably made it a little bit too hard for people to get in because we were requiring people to get a referral from a physician,” she said. “Initially these test sites were set up to allow physicians to refer to us because physicians didn't want themselves to do testing in their offices. Now there's many options for testing and physician offices — but we also want to make it easier for us to see patients.”
However, state officials still strongly discourage Georgians from showing up unannounced to testing sites — appointments are required to be scheduled through the public health district.
Since the first of the month, according to data from the department pf public health, Georgia has nearly tripled the number of tests it has conducted from 20,328 tests as of 7 p.m. April 1 to more than 57,000 tests as of noon Monday.
The state is utilizing multiple private sector and university system partnerships to ramp up testing, including a new drive-through rapid testing facility in Atlanta that has the capability to conduct up to 1,000 tests per day.
On March 31, Kemp announced a coordinated effort with the University System of Georgia that uses research facilities to conduct tests.
Kemp said he receives multiple offers daily from private partners looking to help expand testing capacity with their resources.