Surge testing site at Atlanta airport aimed at pinpointing coronavirus spread
08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - A nurse helps an individual administer a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia in 'red zone' amid high rates in metro counties like Clayton
A COVID-19 surge testing site made its debut Monday in a park-ride lot at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the latest move by local, state and federal health officials to expand testing and stem the spread of the disease.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force has identified Georgia as one of 21 states in the “red zone” for severe spread of the coronavirus. Health experts say the volume of positive cases in metro Atlanta indicates that rates of infection remain dangerously high.
Federal officials felt Clayton County, with a test positivity rate of 22%, “was a good area to target,” Gov. Brian Kemp said during a news conference, accompanied by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Most of the airport is located in the metro county.
The seven-day rolling average for test positivity in Georgia is 10%, a figure that has improved in recent days, but remains in the “red zone” by White House task force guidelines. The World Health Organization and White House guidelines call for sustained positivity rates of 5% or less to get the virus under control. A 5% rate means that if 100 people are tested, 5 test positive for the virus.
Chris Rustin, director of health protection for the state Department of Public Health, singled out metro Atlanta as “a hot spot” on Monday. That came after Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House task force leader, warned state and local leaders on a call Wednesday about conditions in 10 communities, including Atlanta, according to a recording obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
Adams, speaking alongside Kemp at the new testing site Monday, said “when you reopen,” whether it’s schools, sports or jobs, “it’s not if you have a positive test, it’s when you have a positive test.”
“We need to catch [the cases], we need to isolate them,” he said.
08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams speaks during a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia reported 2,429 net new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and 30 net new confirmed deaths. To date, more than 219,000 confirmed cases of the disease have been reported in the state, along with 4,229 deaths.
Georgia reported week-over-week case increases in nine out of 10 weeks from early May through mid-July, peaking at 25,471 cases the week of July 12. In the three weeks since, Georgia has reported a slight decline in weekly cases, but the seven-day rolling average remains more than five times the level reported at the beginning of June.
Health experts have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Georgia needs to continue to expand testing and test processing capacity to help quickly identify cases and isolate people to limit spread. Many residents have complained of days-long waits to get testing appointments and waits of a week to two weeks to get results. Such long waits increase the chance that people can spread the virus before they know they’re infected.
Last week, Georgia reported nearly 202,000 tests performed in the seven days ending on Saturday, a weekly high and a 7% increase over the previous week. The seven-day rolling average for test positivity has fallen from 14% on July 23.
The White House task force recommends a mandate for the public to wear masks in coronavirus hot spots and, “optimally,” statewide.
The task force report recommends Georgia close bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues, and limit indoor dining at restaurants to less than 25% capacity. Other recommendations include beefing up testing and contact tracing and weekly testing of workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Kemp has encouraged people to wear face coverings but has balked at a mask mandate. He sued Atlanta over a mask requirement and steps by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to roll back reopening plans because they conflicted with his orders. Kemp also has resisted re-implementing tighter restrictions on businesses.
The temporary airport surge site, with the ability to test 5,000 people for COVID-19 a day, opened at 1800 Sullivan Rd. in College Park. The new lot was completed early this year to add more parking at the Atlanta airport, but is no longer needed with air travel still down by nearly 70%.
Instead, its rows of spaces, with canopies to provide shade, have been turned into lanes for motorists to line up for free coronavirus tests on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Aug. 26. The testing by self-administered nasal swab is open to anyone in Georgia, regardless of symptoms, with results available in 48 to 72 hours, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Adams said surge testing sites, which have also opened in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Bakersfield, Calif. and Miami, “give you visibility where the virus is spreading.”
“There’s state, there’s county and then there’s sometimes street by street,” Adams said. Widespread testing allows officials to better see when the virus is spreading in groups of people such as the homeless population, areas near a nursing home or people of a particular ethnicity, he said.
“Most of the people who are spreading it in the community don’t know that they have it. And so once they know, they can hopefully take actions to isolate or to limit their chance of spreading to others,” Adams said.
You can’t test your way out of the problem. Testing shows you the problem.
- U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams
Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager John Selden said originally the plan was to hold testing for airport workers, but that plan grew into something much larger. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided clinical staff and supplies for testing, the airport provided the space and state officials are managing the site.
When asked whether the planned 12 days of surge testing is enough to make a difference, Adams said it “can be long enough” to help turn the tide along with preventive measures like wearing masks and social distancing. But he also encouraged the state and county to reassess the 12-day period.