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Many Georgia Residents Still Struggling To Get Tested

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A lot more Americans can get coronavirus tests than a few months ago. A lot of Americans also still have trouble getting a test, or they wait days for results. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Grant Blankenship gives us the picture in Georgia, where the daily number of cases has lately tripled.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: Because 74-year-old Donald Black doesn't have any COVID-19 symptoms, he's been turned away from pharmacy chain stores he went to seeking a test, but he's asthmatic and an allergy sufferer and wants to know if he's carrying the virus. He was eventually able to get a test. But...

DONALD BLACK: That's another problem. I did the test July 2. They say it takes from seven to 10 days. Haven't heard from them yet.

BLANKENSHIP: So yesterday afternoon, he spent more than two hours sitting in his green Honda in a blocks-long line snaking into a coronavirus testing pop-up site in a church parking lot on the south side of Macon.

BLACK: And I'm canceling a doctor's appointment because I'm not getting out of line. I'm this close, so.

UNIDENTIFIED TESTING CENTER EMPLOYEE: If they don't contact you within seven to 10 days...

BLANKENSHIP: The private company running the site says people can expect the results in seven to 10 days. That makes the test results almost useless if the recommended time to quarantine with COVID-19 is 14 days. Georgia's state Department of Public Health says turnaround times for tests done through local public health departments can run from four to seven days, depending on which private lab those departments contract with.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, head of Georgia's Department of Public Health, says that's unacceptable. Health departments and private testing sites send many tests to Quest Diagnostics. This week, Quest said their average test turnaround time is now seven days. It blames the slow pace on rocketing infections in the South and Midwest and most hospitals now making testing mandatory before elective surgeries are performed.

JASON MCCLENDON: We know that a lot of people are not going to get their families and go downtown and wait at the public health department.

BLANKENSHIP: Jason McClendon is the Macon pastor who organized this COVID testing pop-up and many before it. He says he's doing the best he can.

MCCLENDON: We - I cannot control, you know, how fast they come back, but what I can do is provide the opportunity and the service.

BLANKENSHIP: Ultimately, it's about supply and demand. And as infections continue to climb in Georgia, there continues to be a lot of demand for coronavirus testing and a lot of waiting for lab supplies and lab labor to catch up.

For NPR News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.