Coronavirus Updates: Georgia Will Keep Testing Those Exposed, Even Without Symptoms

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey speaks during a coronavirus briefing. (John Bazemore/AP Photo)

John Bazemore / AP Photo

Georgia’s top public health official says the state will continue testing people who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, even if they’re not showing symptoms.

This past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its coronavirus testing guidelines to say asymptomatic people “do not necessarily need a test,” unless a local public health official recommends it.

Previous guidance from the agency said everyone who’d been exposed should get tested, regardless of symptoms.

“We believe it’s in the best scientific interest of Georgians to continue to follow the original guidelines, which will allow us to continue to test all contacts,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, who leads the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Her agency will continue to encourage people who’ve been exposed to self-isolate and get tested if they show symptoms, Toomey says. People who don’t show symptoms will be recommended for testing about 10 days after exposure.

Related: Hear more from Dr. Kathleen Toomey in conversation with health reporter Sam Whitehead in our coronavirus podcast, “Did You Wash Your Hands?” >>

The state has lately seen a decline in demand for testing, Toomey says. The latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force says Georgia has conducted 25% fewer viral lab tests in the two weeks leading up to Aug. 30.

Toomey attributed the decline to a number of factors: people obtaining other kinds of less-accurate diagnostic tests that aren’t reported to the White House, and people not wanting to get tested, fearing the long waits many experienced earlier this summer.

“We’re trying to really work hard to make sure everyone understands we have more than adequate testing capacity,” Toomey said. “And that we’re able to turn those tests around much quicker than I think had been the case even a month ago.”

She says her agency has recently formed partnerships with universities and schools to provide them access to testing and is working with community groups and churches to establish “pop-up” testing sites in targeted areas.

Ensuring quick access to diagnostics will be a key part of preventing any future COVID-19 surges in the state, something that’s on the mind of state officials before the upcoming Labor Day holiday.

Gov. Brian Kemp has blamed the spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia earlier this summer to people not following public health guidelines. He urged people to be diligent this weekend to ensure that Georgia’s recent progress in slowing the spread of the virus isn’t undone.

Toomey is on the same page headed into the Labor Day weekend.

“I think it’s very fair to say to people, ‘Take some personal responsibility to take yourself, protect others, protect your family and your community, so that we can all be safe,’” Toomey said.

Cherokee County Schools To Reopen, With Hybrid Model

Three Cherokee County high schools will reopen Thursday using a hybrid model.

Creekview, Etowah and Woodstock High Schools were all closed following a COVID-19 outbreak last month.

Through the hybrid model, students will study the same content each day with one group learning in-person while the other works at home, online.

To-go bags of breakfasts and lunches will be available for the days students are not attending in-person classes.

The hybrid model remains in place until Oct. 9.

Survey: Nurses Still Reporting PPE Shortages

Shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for nurses in Georgia and across the country still persist months into the pandemic. That’s according to a new survey by the American Nurses Association.

About two-thirds of the 21,000 nurses surveyed said they were required to reuse N95 masks, for example.

Jennifer Gil, a nurse and board member of the American Nurses Association, says PPE shortages and hospital closures in rural areas put a burden on larger ones.

“When you think about local communities and rural hospitals that are really suffering in terms of resources, that does transcend to larger hospitals because we’re carrying more of those patients,” she said. “So we’re seeing longer wait times.”

Two hospitals in rural Georgia plan to close later this year.

The association would like to see the full use of the Defense Production Act for more PPE. It would allow the president to direct private companies to ramp up domestic production.

Expert: Use Caution On Labor Day Weekend

An Emory University travel medicine expert says people should take caution if hitting the road this Labor Day weekend amid the ongoing pandemic.

Dr. Henry Wu, who leads the school’s TravelWell Center, says people should take the proper precautions when traveling, such as maintaining physical distance from others and watching for outbreaks in areas where they’re headed.

“Traveling to an area that’s having a significant problem with COVID-19 is not a good idea,” he said. “Certainly there’s risk to you. And certainly there’s risk of you getting infected, and bringing that infection back to your family.”

Wu recommends that travelers wear face masks and clean their hands after touching shared surfaces. He also says it might be a good idea to stay home if you’re feeling sick or have had close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.