With coronavirus cases at an all-time high, Cobb County has acquired more than 60,000 home COVID tests to give to vulnerable residents.
Cobb commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve the $816,000 emergency purchase, made by county officials late last month as the virus’ rapid spread overwhelmed testing sites across the metro area.
Janet Memark, the district health director for Cobb and Douglas counties, said in a briefing to the board that more than 21,000 new cases have been reported in Cobb over the last two weeks. Nearly all of them are believed to be the omicron variant, which is more contagious than previous strains.
“We are already putting a strain on our hospital system,” Memark said, urging residents to get vaccinated and boosted.
County health officials expect the tests to be available by the end of January, but plans to distribute them are still being ironed out. Tests are expected to be made available at existing mass testing sites and at homeless shelters and other non-profits.
The county’s acquisition comes as the Biden administration is preparing to send 500 million free tests through the mail to people who request them. But Memark said the county’s purchase was warranted, because the county’s tests are expected to arrive sooner than those procured by the federal government.
Cobb bought the tests using money that was freed up in the county’s general budget after the commission spent the last of its federal CARES Act dollars on public safety staffing. Commissioner Kelly Gambrill, a conservative from West Cobb, voted against buying the tests, calling it a “shell game” of government accounting.
“If we really didn’t need to use that money to reimburse salaries, then why aren’t we using that money to fix things within the county that really need to be fixed?” Gambrill said.
The other four board members supported the purchase, noting that the CARES Act money had to be spent by a Dec. 31 deadline. After using the federal money for public safety, the county set aside local tax dollars for ongoing pandemic costs after the deadline.