For months, Chris Byrne had COVID-19-like symptoms — a cough, low fever and congestion.
However, because of the shortage in testing, he couldn’t get tested because he didn't have a referral from a doctor. These symptoms paired with his wife and daughter traveling by plane to Georgia from Arizona made Bryne worried he could have the virus.
The Athens resident couldn’t find a place to confirm the suspicion until April 21 when he went to the Peachtree Immediate Care testing site and was tested free of cost because of his Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance coverage.
Byrne’s test came back negative four days after he took the test.
About a week before, the Georgia Department of Public Health announced it would expand COVID-19 testing to all symptomatic people, prioritizing symptomatic and asymptomatic health care workers, first responders, law enforcement and long-term care facility staff and residents.
“We have the tests; we have the physicians; we have the sites; and we have the bandwidth,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in an April 27 press conference. “We just need more Georgians to participate. Right now, all symptomatic Georgians can take advantage of this resource, and I am calling on anyone who is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to act.”
Yet anyone who wants a test from the DPH in Clarke County must receive a screening or referral first.
Because of Kemp’s controversial decision to reopen certain businesses and reduce social distancing guidelines, an increase in testing may be the ticket to reducing the spread of the virus.
“You can’t really develop solutions or even prepare adequately if you don’t know what the problem is that you’re facing,” Grace Bagwell Adams, a University of Georgia associate professor of health policy and management, told The Red & Black.
As of May 4, the state has more than 29,000 confirmed cases and more 183,000 tests have been administered, according to the DPH daily status report.
Kemp has continued to announce public and private partnerships geared toward increasing the amount of tests in the state, highlighting Augusta University, CVS, Walmart and more in the April 27 press conference.
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires commercial health insurance providers to allow for free COVID-19 testing. The act allocates $1 billion to pay for COVID-19 tests for the uninsured, but does not require free tests for people without insurance. The subsequently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act requires providers to publish the cash price for their tests on a website.
Private and public testing options in Clarke County have also increased since the start of the pandemic, and residents have a variety of options depending on their situation if they want to get tested for the virus. Some options require pre-screening, while others don’t.
Georgia Department of Public Health
Where: Clarke County School District Transportation Department
Hours: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday; 9 a.m.–noon Saturday
Need to Know: In order to get tested at this site, patients need a referral from their doctor or from a public health official via the pre-screening telephone line at 706-340-0996. People can call from 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday–Friday and 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday for screening. Potential patients cannot get tested here for COVID-19 without a referral.
Any person with COVID-19 symptoms that is a health care worker, over 65 years old, in a long-term care facility or group home, has underlying medical conditions or is interacting with any of these people can get a test, according to the Northeast Health District screening website. Symptomatic people who don’t fall into these categories and asymptomatic people who have potentially been exposed to the virus will be the next priority for tests.
Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center
Where: PARMC and Oconee Health Campus
Hours: Oconee Health Campus 9 a.m.–3 p.m. by appointment
Need to Know: The Piedmont Healthcare system can process tests in hospitals labs for patients with COVID-19 symptoms who have been hospitalized and has expanded its criteria needed for administering tests, according to a statement from a Piedmont spokesperson.
People who are not hospitalized can call 1-866-460-1119 to be screened for receiving a test at the drive-thru Oconee Health Campus location. If they qualify, a nurse will give them an appointment. The testing site can collect four to six test specimens an hour, a spokesperson said in a statement.
St. Mary’s Health Care System
Where: St. Mary’s Hospital
Need to Know: St. Mary’s does a combination of in-house and lab COVID-19 tests only for admitted patients. A spokesperson said the testing amount changes based on how many people meet St. Mary’s criteria. No tests are available to the general public.
Peachtree Immediate Care
Where: Clarke Middle School
Hours: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday–Friday; 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday
Need to Know: Peachtree Immediate Care is offering drive-thru evaluation and testing at this site. The private testing does not require a pre-screening or any registration on its website, though there is an option to fill out your information before going to the site. Professionals will screen patients on site to see if they qualify for a test.
Byrne said he went to this site, where workers told him many symptoms qualify a person for a test. The site takes most health insurance, making the test completely free for most insured people. For those who are uninsured, the test is $175, according to the website.
Athens Free Mobile Clinic
Hours: Varying; Call 706-308-4092 from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday (available in English and Spanish)
Need to Know: With help from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, this mobile clinic transformed itself from free HIV testing to free COVID-19 testing amid the pandemic, according to a University of Georgia press release. The clinic’s staff is using a grassroots network and contacts with existing patients to find people who need COVID-19 tests but are uninsured or lack reliable transportation. Medical students will screen patients who call, and the Northeast Health District will supply the test kits.
Where: 3595 Atlanta Highway
Hours: By appointment at CVS.com
Need to Know: CVS has drive-thru tests only. Patients will do the swab test on themselves with an employee observing to make sure it is done correctly. Patients must register in advance at CVS.com for an appointment. Rapid-result test results are generally returned in person within 30 minutes of specimen collection, while COVID-19 lab testing returns results within two to four days, according to the CVS website. Test sites at CVS stores accept most insurance.