Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday that any Georgian who wants can now get tested for the coronavirus, regardless of whether they’re showing symptoms, even as mobile testing sites had to pause this week because of problems with information flow and reporting results back to those who had been tested.
The loosening of testing criteria comes as Georgia charts an aggressive course to reopening amid the virus outbreak, despite the fact that parts of the state are still battling infection hot spots.
Gainesville, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Atlanta known for its poultry processing industry, has quickly become one of the state’s most affected areas and is a growing concern for officials.
Kemp said during a news conference Thursday that state health officials “are now encouraging all Georgians — even if they are not experiencing symptoms — to schedule an appointment with their health care provider, local health department, or get a screening through the (Augusta University) Health ExpressCare app.”
Georgia’s Department of Public Health has recorded over 31,500 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 1,340 deaths.
While testing capabilities in the state have been ramping up, the system has shown signs of strain.
Dr. Philip Coule, chief medical officer of Augusta University Health, said on Tuesday that mobile testing had to be paused for a matter of days because of a 2,000-test backlog.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Experts say that both robust testing and a state’s ability to trace the contacts of infected people are key to ensuring businesses can reopen safely without fueling a resurgence of infections.
In the state health district that includes Macon, there is currently only enough staff to trace the contacts of coronavirus patients from high-risk groups such as health care workers and first responders, said Michael Hokanson, a spokesman for the district.
“This is a recognized gap statewide,” he said. The North Central Health District is looking to hire two more epidemiologists to supplement the roughly 40 staff members who are able to perform contact tracing right now, he said.
Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said during the news conference that the department is working to increase the number of contract tracers working in Georgia.
“We are in the process of ramping up dramatically our access to contact tracers,” Toomey said. “We have estimated we need about 1,000.”
Toomey said more than 500 people are already in the process of being hired for contract-tracing work.