Georgia to expand COVID-19 testing; set up 200 medical pods in World Congress Center

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Describing Georgia’s COVID-19 testing as “unacceptable,” Governor Brian Kemp on Monday announced the state will expand the previously tightly-restricted requirements for the diagnostic tool.

“As of noon today, we now have 13,315 COVID-19 cases in Georgia spanning 157 counties with 464 deaths. The state lab has processed 3,750 tests, and commercial vendors have processed 53,271 tests,” Kemp said. “Despite our partnerships and undeniable progress, our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag. The status quo is unacceptable, and Dr. Toomey is pushing public health officials across our state to collect more specimens and process more tests. This morning, Dr. Toomey held a conference call with public health directors in every region, directing them to expand test sites and revise current testing criteria. We need to be firing on all cylinders to prepare for the days and weeks ahead.”

Kemp on March 18 announced Georgia would begin “prioritizing” COVID-19 testing, focusing on the state’s “most vulnerable populations and the people responsible for their care and safety,” specifically the elderly, those with chronic underlying health conditions, residents of long-term care facilities and those working on the front line such as health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility employees and law enforcement officers.

The purpose, Kemp said, was to “conserve precious medical supplies.”

The testing expansion Kemp announced Monday will allow for testing of critical infrastructure workers and asymptomatic individuals who have had direct contact with positive COVID-19 patients, including family members.

“We will also continue to prioritize testing for symptomatic individuals with chronic health conditions along with first responders, health care workers, law enforcement and long-term care facility residents and staff regardless of symptoms. And although physicians can continue to refer patients to us for testing at public health sites, state officials can directly schedule people who require testing through local districts,” Kemp said.

Authorities continue to say those who wish to be tested should not walk into a hospital or other health care facility.

“Now, I want to be crystal clear – we do not want people showing up unannounced to a hospital, emergency room or health care facility for a test,” Kemp reiterated. “You need to contact your local health department beforehand to arrange for a test.”

The projected peak date in Georgia was on Monday moved forward from April 26 to May 1, one day after Kemp’s current shelter-at-home executive order is set to expire. He has already extended that order once from an initial expiration date of April 13 to the current April 30.

He said in the interim, officials will continue to prepare for projected patient needs, including the establishment of an alternate care facility at the Georgia World Congress Center.

“While testing numbers continue to frustrate Georgians and state leaders alike, I am proud of the progress that we have made to expand surge capacity. Over the weekend, the state executed a contract to build an alternate care facility at the Georgia World Congress Center,” Kemp said. “Yesterday, the Georgia National Guard, GEMA, Department of Community Health, Department of Public Health and contractors began preparing the site for potential COVID-19 patient surge. Using 200 non-ICU medical pods – similar to large office cubicles – for patient rooms, we will be able to house Georgians with mild to moderate illness and, if needed, we can quickly expand capacity to 400 non-ICU beds.”

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