Health officials say free COVID-19 tests could become more difficult to find.
The free drive-up COVID-19 test site at Lakepoint in Emerson will close after next week. Public Information Officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District Logan Boss cited lower demand for these tests as a driving force behind the decision, but he also said Lakepoint administrators wanted use of their facility back. The testing sites in Catoosa, Floyd, and Paulding counties are still in operation for the time being.
In a press release, the DPH said the decision was also influenced by the fact that home tests had become more readily available, though over-the-counter PCR tests still cost around $100 at most pharmacies. PCR tests are considered the gold standard of COVID-19 diagnosis. All Georgians are also eligible to receive free at-home rapid tests from the federal government, but each household is limited to eight tests total.
COVID-19 tests could become harder to come across unless Congress approves more funding. According to Boss, the uninsured and underinsured would be the most impacted by this loss of accessibility.
“Unless Congress passes more funding for COVID testing – and the vaccine program – free tests may be increasingly difficult to find, and that certainly is a concern,” he said during a phone call with WBHF.
However, the DPH is reportedly looking into other models of making tests available to the public. Boss described kiosks that would be set up in publicized locations where people could get a free test kit, deposit their sample, and receive results within a few days. The agency could also supply free over-the-counter tests.
For now, the drive-up sites offer the only free tests available from the DPH.
Earlier this month, the health department announced a change from daily to weekly updates on its online COVID-19 dashboard, signaling a shift in focus from case counts to indicators like hospital admissions, hospital occupancy, and vaccination rates. This was partly attributed to the fact that at-home tests rarely get reported to the government.
Boss told WBHF vaccines are the main preventive measure deployed by public health right now. These immunizations, including boosters, are available at the Bartow County Health Department.
“We’re still in a public health emergency. We’re not out of the woods yet,” Boss said. “It’s disconcerting that we are having to tinker with or start taking apart pieces of our COVID response which we’ve built over the last couple of years. We can’t start rolling up the carpet just yet even though we are currently in a pandemic lull.”
The final day of operation for the free drive-up COVID-19 test site at Lakepoint will be next Thursday, April 28. The health department refers those searching for COVID-19 resources, including testing locations, to hhs.gov or COVID.gov.
The following free drive-up test sites in Northwest Georgia are still in operation:
CHI Memorial Hospital (former Women’s Center)
100 Gross Crescent Circle
Ft. Oglethorpe, GA
Mondays, Wednesdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Coosa Valley Fairgrounds
1400 Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd.
Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
WellStar Paulding Hospital (Urgent Care Center)
120 Greystone Power Blvd.
Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m