Coronavirus

Coronavirus Updates: Lab Delays, Staffing Shortages Complicate Coronavirus Testing In DeKalb County

A woman is instructed on how to swab her nose by a medical worker at a free COVID-19 testing site in Massachusetts. In metro Atlanta, counties have seen an increased demand for coronavirus testing as of late.
A woman is instructed on how to swab her nose by a medical worker at a free COVID-19 testing site in Massachusetts. In metro Atlanta, counties have seen an increased demand for coronavirus testing as of late.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press
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DeKalb County’s top health official says her agency is facing a number of challenges in its effort to test residents for the coronavirus. A lack of staffing has forced the county to close testing sites early, and a spike in volume has overwhelmed the third-party lab used to process tests.

“We, the agency, cannot expedite tests,” said Dr. Sandra Ford in a meeting with county commissioners Tuesday. “Once it goes to the lab, the lab does the test and we just have to wait for them. And when you’re doing that volume of tests per week, it’s just a challenge for anyone.”

The DeKalb Board of Health sends off from 10,000 to 12,000 tests a week, Ford said. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted, that was her testing goal for an entire month.

Other metro Atlanta counties have seen an increased demand for coronavirus testing as of late. In Gwinnett, public health officials were processing 1,000 tests a day last week, which they said maxed-out their testing capacity.

That increased demand has led to longer wait times for results across the region, with some people waiting as long as a week to find out if they’ve been infected. It’s a problem being seen across the country.

Ford says she thinks DeKalb’s testing turnaround times are “still better than most of metro [Atlanta] right now.”

Still, her agency is facing other challenges, such as a lack of staff needed to collect test samples as more and more people come seeking diagnoses.

“That type of volume is a challenge as we continue to try to manage our own staffing shortages,” Ford said. “This past week was very challenging because we’ve had a number of staff become ill.”

That forced the county to close operations early at two testing sites because they “simply didn’t have enough staff to manage,” Ford continued.

She says the board of health is working to find nursing staff to work with the county on a contract basis to expand it’s COVID-19 response.

DeKalb, like many counties across the state, has seen a steady increase in new coronavirus cases since Georgia began reopening in late-April.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Georgia Department of Health confirmed nearly 124,000 cases of COVID-19 and 3,054 deaths in the state.

APS Plans Virtual Start To School Year, Longer Break

Atlanta Public Schools will start the school year remotely, and students will probably get a longer summer break than they expected.

This week, the school board OK’d a plan to push back the first day of school to Aug. 24–from Aug. 10. Superintendent Lisa Herring said the district plans to start the year virtually because coronavirus cases in Fulton County have spiked.

But board chair Jason Estevez said all of that could change, depending on the progression of the pandemic.

“It could be that in two weeks we see that the numbers go down dramatically and that we can go to a hybrid model or we could go to a traditional model,” he said.

Meantime, the district is preparing for a semester online by trying to get digital devices and internet access to families without.

A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.

NY Governor Offers Atlanta Help

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is offering to send a team to Atlanta to help with coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joined him Monday during his daily media briefing.

Last week, Bottoms signed orders requiring people to wear masks in public when they can’t maintain social distancing and rolled back Atlanta’s reopening.

Home Prices In Metro Area Hold Steady

The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty for the local economy, but home prices in metro Atlanta have held steady.

The industry site Zillow says homes have started selling faster around Atlanta in the last few weeks. And compared to a year ago, the metro area is even seeing fewer price cuts.

The main reason is that there aren’t many homes available. Listings are down 25% since last year.

Meanwhile, there are still a lot of people looking to buy. Zillow says that means sellers in Atlanta continue to have the advantage.

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