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What Georgians Need to Know About COVID-19 Testing

What Georgians Need to Know About COVID-19 Testing

All residents are encouraged to get tested for the novel coronavirus, even if they do not have symptoms. Here’s how to get it done.

Updated on May 8, 2020; 6pm EDT

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, with well over 1 million confirmed cases in the United States.

Georgia has accounted for 32,126 of those as of May 8, according to the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH), with 5,957 hospitalizations, 1,401 admissions to intensive care units and 1,395 deaths. While Georgia’s biggest hotspots have been Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Dougherty, Cobb and Hall counties, every county has experienced at least some cases.

As many businesses in the state begin to reopen, it’s essential for every Georgian to continue taking precautions to protect their health and the health of those around them, while remaining alert for signs of illness. 

As part of the effort to prevent disease spread, Governor Kemp is now encouraging every Georgia resident to be tested for COVID-19, even if they do not have symptoms. Speak with your healthcare provider (HCP) or call your local public health department for more information, and to get a testing time slot at a site near you. All Georgians are eligible for this test free of cost, and it takes just minutes to complete.

If you haven’t yet been tested and you or someone in your home has symptoms consistent with a respiratory infection, don’t panic. Even if you believe you were exposed to COVID-19, do not go to a local emergency room, urgent care center or your doctor’s office.

Do this instead:

Step 1. Take immediate steps to isolate yourself to avoid spreading your illness to others. This means keeping distance between yourself and the other people in your home. If possible, confine yourself to a specific room and use a separate bathroom. Limit your contact with any pets in your home and, if you have one available, wear a facemask if you are around other people.

Be sure to also cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throw the tissue away. Be vigilant about washing your hands, avoid touching commonly used surfaces and do not share cups, utensils, towels, bedding or other items with anyone else in your home.

These measures are important, even if you’re not feeling very sick or your symptoms are mild. Many otherwise healthy younger adults and children with COVID-19 only develop mild symptoms.

In fact, some people infected with COVID-19 may be able to pass the novel coronavirus on to others before they develop symptoms—so-called silent spreaders. This incubation period (the time that passes between when you’re exposed to the virus and when your symptoms appear) may range from 2 to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A March 2020 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that the median incubation period for COVID-19 is slightly more than 5 days, and the vast majority of people will develop symptoms within 12 days. In some cases, however, symptoms may appear even after 14 days.

This is why social distancing plays a critical role in curbing the spread of the infection.

Step 2. Call your healthcare provider (HCP) for instructions. Do not go to your doctor’s office without calling ahead first and letting the office staff know that you suspect you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

You can also take advantage of telemedicine and check in with your HCP through a tablet, computer or smartphone if you have symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19. Georgia has a robust telehealth system, with connectivity available in all 159 counties. This type of remote care would not only help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus to others but also help conserve essential medical supplies, such as masks and gowns, which are in short supply.

Your doctor can work with your local public health department to determine when and where you should be tested for the novel coronavirus. As of May 8, 227,477 tests have been administered in Georgia.

Many people with mild cases are able to recover on their own at home with supportive care. Your HCP can determine whether you are among those patients who can be treated at home.

If you develop serious warning signs of COVID-19, however, you need to seek immediate medical attention. These reg flags may include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Feeling confused
  • Bluish lips or face

Call 911 and let the operator know that you have or think you may have COVID-19. If you have a medical mask, put it on before help arrives.

Step 3. If you are advised to be tested, you will receive specific instructions about how to get to the testing site. You should not arrive at one of the Georgia DPH’s drive-through sites unannounced or without a scheduled appointment. 

The COVID-19 test is currently a Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panel. Results may be ready in a matter of hours, but in some cases, it could take several days. For the test, you will be asked to provide a mucus sample. Using a swab, an HCP will take the sample from inside your nose. If you are coughing up mucus, that may be tested as well. The test measures the presence of viral RNA in your body and can tell you if you currently have COVID-19.

Another type of blood test, known as an antibody test, would be needed to determine if you’ve ever had the novel coronavirus and since recovered. Since many cases are mild and may go undetected, this test would help give scientists a more accurate picture of how far and wide the disease has spread.

The Georgia DPH has worked with the CDC and the Fulton and Dekalb County Boards of Health to conduct some antibody testing in randomly selected homes in Fulton and Dekalb counties. Officials say getting tested for antibodies serves a valuable public health purpose, as doing so can help health experts learn more about COVID-19 with the ultimate goal of slowing—and stopping—the pandemic.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

Sources:

COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Georgia Department of Public Health. “Georgia Department of Public Health Daily Status Report,” “Office of Telehealth & Telemedicine.”
Georgia.gov. “COVID-19: Resources and Hotlines.”
Greg Bluestein and Tamar Hallerman. “With more virus test supplies, Kemp urges all Georgians to be screened.” AJC.com. May 7, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).”
SA Lauer, KH Grantz, Q Bi, et al. “The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What To Do if You Are Sick.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Testing for COVID-19.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Testing in U.S.”
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “LabCorp COVID-19 RT-PCR test EUA Summary.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC Tests for COVID-19.”
Georgia Department of Public Health. “COVID-19 Antibody Testing Activity.”
“CDC beginning COVID-19 antibody survey in Georgia counties.” FOX 5 Atlanta. April 27, 2020.

 

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