More Georgians now will be able to get tested for the new coronavirus. Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday at a news conference that the... Testing for coronavirus gets rolling in Georgia

More Georgians now will be able to get tested for the new coronavirus.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday at a news conference that the state Public Health Lab now has the capacity to run diagnostic tests on people suspected of having the virus, known as COVID-19.

The testing capacity for states has lagged since the CDC failed in its first attempt to produce a diagnostic kit. The Public Health Lab recently received a diagnostic test kit from the CDC for COVID-19, but like those sent to other states, its components were flawed.

The first testing with new kits began Thursday.

“Just a small number’’ of Georgians had been tested for the disease prior to Thursday, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state’s Department of Public Health.

“Today, we had double-digit individuals tested,’’ Toomey said. She added that the CDC will still confirm the results for at least the time being.

With more testing possible, there will probably be more people diagnosed with the virus, she noted. She added that 80 percent of COVID-19 cases involve very mild symptoms.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, told the New York Times that “clearly, there have been problems with rolling out the test. There are a lot of frustrated doctors and patients and health departments.”

Kemp: Risk is still low

Twelve Americans have died from COVID-19 – all but one in Washington state. More than 100 have contracted the disease. More than 3,300 deaths and almost 100,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, the vast majority of them in mainland China.

Kemp reiterated his call for citizens to remain calm.

“This is no time for Georgians to panic,’’ Kemp said. Americans’ average risk of contracting the disease remains low, he said, echoing Vice President Mike Pence, who is coordinating the federal response.

Kemp addressing press conference

 

Kemp welcomed Congress’ passage of an $8.3 billion funding package to address coronavirus. States are expected to get a large chunk of that money.

People who have private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare will not have to pay for COVID-19 testing, Kemp said. And Toomey added that the state will cover the cost of testing for people who have no insurance coverage.

The state is working on preventing a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, such as masks.

Asked about any instances of backlash against Asian-Americans, with China being the epicenter of the disease, Toomey said, “We are very concerned about the stigma and discrimination that has emerged.’’

“The message to the public is that anyone can acquire COVID-19. It’s not unique to the Asian population, it’s not unique to one race or ethnicity,’’ she said.


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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