State officials have transferred the first patient who tested positive for the disease caused by a coronavirus to a state park used to isolate and monitor Georgians exposed to the illness.
And Georgia officials late Tuesday said the number of residents who are confirmed or presumed to have the disease, known as COVID-19, has grown to 22 cases - including the first in south Georgia. All but one of the residents are hospitalized, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. And for most of these people infected by the the coronavirus, the source of exposure is unknown.
The number has increased as public health officials changed protocols for COVID-19 testing and authorities scramble to respond to demands for beefed up containment efforts.
All Georgia physicians are now allowed to order tests, and private labs can process them.
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That contrasts with earlier requirements that doctors consult with state health departments, which had the final say on whether a patient should be tested for the new coronavirus.
Testing was approved only for patients who fit the then-narrow criteria, and all specimens were then routed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The limited testing was at least partly due to faulty test kits being sent out to state health departments by the CDC several weeks ago. New kits were sent out in early March to health departments and state labs.
The state Department of Health said that, as of Tuesday evening, there were 21 confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, but that number is expected to change daily.
The six confirmed diagnoses have been reported in Fulton County, Cobb, Polk and Floyd counties. Sixteen presumptive positive cases, meaning yet to be verified by the CDC, have been reported in Charlton, Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Fayette and Cherokee counties.
The case in Charlton, a southeast Georgia county on the state line with Florida, was the first south of metro Atlanta reported in Georgia.
Also Tuesday, the governor’s office announced a patient who tested positive for the disease became the first transferred to Hard Labor Creek State Park, which will be used for isolating and monitoring patients who may have been exposed to virus.
"This site was specifically chosen for its isolation from the general public and ability to house mobile units in the short term," said Homer Bryson, head of Georgia’s emergency management agency.
"State public health staff will monitor the individual's progress and work together with state law enforcement to ensure the safety of the community and the patient."
And dozens of passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship also were expected to arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta late Tuesday evening. Federal authorities have said they’ll be screened and housed there for an uncertain amount of time. The group includes 34 Georgians and dozens more from other states.
As of Friday, 21 people on the cruise ship had tested positive for the infection, Vice President Mike Pence said during a Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. Of those, 19 are crew members of the ship and two are passengers.
It’s not immediately clear if any of those coming to Dobbins have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Those who show no symptoms and pass a screening likely will be able to quarantine at home.
Since last Thursday, the Georgia state lab has tested between 50 and 60 Georgians. LabCorp, a commercial facility, is also analyzing specimen using a test it developed. And Quest Diagnostics, also a commercial lab, announced it will begin testing this week.
Neither companies are saying how many tests they have performed. All positive readings must be reported to state health authorities.
Before Thursday, only about 15 Georgians had been tested for the new virus since the start of the outbreak. The virus first appeared in China in December and the first case in the U.S. was reported in January.
Some public health experts have said that slow testing has hampered efforts across the U.S. to track the movement of the coronavirus.
“The numbers of new cases reported daily in the U.S are not new,” said Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. “They are newly discovered as we start to test more. Testing is still completely inadequate, and actual case numbers are much larger than the numbers we’re hearing because most cases never get tested.”
Until recently, tests were given only to people who had traveled to China or another hot spot, or those who had been in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. The CDC has issued new guidelines that allow for anyone with a doctor’s order to be tested for the virus.
Federal officials say they are working to rapidly expand the ability to process tests by using public and private labs.
Major insurers on have pledged to cover coronavirus tests at no cost to patients.
The chief executive officers of United Health, Anthem, Humana and other insurance companies met with President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence on Tuesday to underscore that commitment.
— Staff writer Ariel Hart and The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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