Mobile testing courtesy

Dr. Suzanne Lester (left) oversees the Athens Free Clinic and Whitney Howell (right) is the nursing director for the Northeast Health District. (Photo Courtesy/Northeast Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health)

A mobile health unit will provide COVID-19 testing to people in Athens-Clarke County without transportation, who are homeless or who have other barriers to health care, according to a news release from the Northeast Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The Northeast Health District plans to supply test kits and personal protective equipment for the clinic, according to the release. It also plans on processing specimens collected by the mobile clinic before notifying people who test positive for COVID-19.

The Athens Free Clinic, a part of the Augusta University/University of Georgia medical partnership, operates the mobile testing unit, according to the release. The testing capability was requested by the ACC government.

A separate mobile unit operated by the Northeast Health District already provides drive-thru testing at various sites throughout a 10-county area. The Athens Free Clinic mobile unit will instead go directly to people who are unable to go to a health care provider to be tested. Both options are free, according to the release.

The Athens Free Clinic has provided primary care to underserved populations since 2018. With the implementation of the mobile unit, they have doubled the number of patients the mobile clinic could serve at one time, resulting in a better efficiency rate, according to the release.

Dr. Suzanne Lester, who oversees the Athens Free Clinic, will be assisted by faculty physicians and residents, as well as medical students who are staffing a hotline in both English and Spanish to respond to requests from people and local agencies, the release said.

“We are using a grassroots network as well as reaching out to the over 500 patients we currently serve to identify areas of high need,” Lester said in the release. “This is a true collaboration among many partners to serve the entirety of the community and ensure everyone has access to testing.”

Lester is a practicing physician at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership.

ACC has been working closely with state, regional and local organizations to increase community testing capabilities.

“The mobile clinic project is a fantastic collaboration that helps expand overall testing and provides it to our most vulnerable populations and residents who had little or no access previously,” said J.W. Thaxton, ACC interim emergency management coordinator.

If you do not have a primary care provider and need to be tested for COVID-19, you can call the Northeast Health District’s hotline for testing at 706-340-0996. The hotline is answered 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays.

If you do not have access to transportation or have other barriers to care, you can call the Athens Free Clinic mobile unit Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at 706-308-4092.

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