Gov. Kemp announces new mobile testing initiative for Georgia

FILE - In this April 16, 2020, file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp listens to a question from the press during a tour of a temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Kemp plans to have many of his states businesses up and running again as soon as Friday, April 24. (AP Photo/Ron Harris, Pool, File) (Ron Harris)

ATLANTA – As the state begins to loosen restrictions in place to stem the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Brian Kemp is announcing a new mobile testing initiative for Georgia communities without easy access to test sites.

On Sunday, Kemp announced the launch of a mobile COVID-19 testing initiative to set up drive-thru sites in more far-flung communities, calling the effort “a game-changing step” for the state. Starting Monday, the mobile unit -- a collaboration of state and local resources, as well as Walmart and ETrueNorth, a contractor of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- will rotate among Augusta, Milledgeville and Tifton.

“Increased testing is critical as we continue the measured process of safely reopening parts of our state, and I am grateful to our many partners with Walmart, eTrueNorth, and in these communities which provided support to get this operation online,” Kemp said in a release.

Kemp’s office said the unit will test Georgians exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, as well as all health care providers and first responders. Appointments can be made at or on-site.

Georgia had recorded more than 23,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 912 deaths as of Sunday afternoon, according to the state health department. For most people, the coronavirus behind the pandemic causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.

Georgia has ranked in the bottom nationally in per capita testing, a key component in preventing a resurgence of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Critics have said that Kemp’s order to restart some businesses was premature despite a recent bump in screenings.

Starting this weekend, Georgia business owners who chose to reopen after Kemp relaxed coronavirus-related restrictions gratefully welcomed back customers, while others remained satisfied in their decision to stay closed.

Gyms, tattoo shops, nail salons and barber shops were among the businesses that were allowed to open Friday after Kemp relaxed a monthlong shutdown in spite of warnings from health experts and disapproval from President Donald Trump.

Another round of reopenings is set for Monday, when limited in-restaurant dining can resume and movie theaters may reopen. All the businesses have to adhere to restrictions including separating workers and enhanced sanitation.