Georgia signs deal to expand coronavirus test processing

Credit: Ryon Horne

Credit: Ryon Horne

The state of Georgia on Monday announced a partnership with a North Carolina company to help alleviate a testing logjam that’s led to prolonged waits for coronavirus test results.

The dramatic surge in coronavirus infections over the past month in Georgia has led to long waits for appointments and long lines at testing centers. Further complicating matters, Georgia residents have complained of waits of one to two weeks to get results from labs overwhelmed by demand.

The local surge echoes a national increase in testing demand that has strained major commercial labs such as Quest and LabCorp. On Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp described the situation as “unacceptable” and said the state was seeking a new vendor to ease the test processing bottleneck.

Kemp said in a Monday news release that the state’s new contract with Mako Medical calls for the company to provide supplies and critical lab capacity to process 10,000 coronavirus test samples per day.

The release said Mako will provide results within 48 hours, on average. Contract terms were not immediately released.

“Georgia has dramatically expanded testing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kemp said in the release. “As demand for testing has soared across the country, many private labs have been unable to process tests quick enough to aid in contact tracing and mitigation efforts. With some Georgians waiting well over a week for their results, the status quo is unacceptable.”

On Monday, the state reported 2,452 new cases of COVID-19 and reported some 18,000 tests performed. The more than 20,000 tests Georgia processed per day from June 28 to Thursday is only about a third what Harvard University researchers say is needed to mitigate spread in the Peach State, and less than one-tenth what Georgia needs to suppress it, according to an online tool developed by NPR.

Mako will provide test kits that will be distributed to sample collection sites and provide the lab processing services. Cody Hall, a Kemp spokesman, said Mako already serves long-term care facilities in Georgia and has an established courier network to speed supplies to testing sites and get samples to Mako’s lab.

In the release, Kemp said, “this new partnership will not only expand the number of tests the state is able to administer, but also greatly reduce the turnaround time of those tests. This is vital to Georgia’s efforts in our fight against COVID-19.”

The longer it takes for residents to get tested and receive results, the more likely it is the virus can spread, experts say. Results that are a week old or older, experts say, hamper efforts such as contact tracing needed to quickly identify and isolate outbreaks.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s commissioner of public health, said expanded testing is critical to fighting the disease. She said the Mako contract “will boost test processing capabilities and enable our army of contact tracers to respond quicker to newly identified cases.”