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Coronavirus testing expands in Georgia
Cruise passengers to be kept at Atlanta air base
cruise ship
The Grand Princess docks at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, March 9, 2020. The cruise ship, which had maintained a holding pattern off the coast for days, is carrying multiple people who tested positive for COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

More Georgians now will be able to get tested for the new coronavirus.

Gov. Brian Kemp said that the state Public Health Lab now has the capacity to run diagnostic tests on people suspected of having the virus, known as COVID-19.

The testing capacity for states has lagged since the CDC failed in its first attempt to produce a diagnostic kit. The Public Health Lab recently received a diagnostic test kit from the CDC for COVID-19, but like those sent to other states, its components were flawed.

The first testing with new kits began late last week.

"Just a small number" of Georgians had been tested for the disease prior to Thursday, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state's Department of Public Health.

"Today, we had double-digit individuals tested," Toomey said. She added that the CDC will still confirm the results for at least the time being.

Eleven Georgia residents have now tested positive for the COVID-19.

With more testing possible, there will probably be more people diagnosed with the virus, she noted. She added that 80 percent of COVID-19 cases involve very mild symptoms.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, told the New York Times that "clearly, there have been problems with rolling out the test. There are a lot of frustrated doctors and patients and health departments."

Georgians on cruise ship

Thirty-four Georgians from the coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess cruise ship are among the U.S. citizens expected to arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta on either Monday night or Tuesday morning, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a news release. The state residents will be tested and quarantined for 14 days.

Kemp said people from other eastern U.S. states would also be quarantined at the military base, but he did not specify how many.

"I am confident that Dobbins is equipped to provide high-quality care for Americans in need while keeping Georgia families safe, and our state stands ready to assist our federal partners if requested," Kemp said.

The Grand Princess is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries. It docked in Oakland, California, on Monday. At least 21 people aboard the ship, including 19 crew members, have tested positive for the virus, Vice President Mike Pence announced Friday.

Kemp: Risk is still low

More than 600 have contracted the disease across 25 states, with at least 22 deaths attributed to the virus. More than 3,800 deaths and 112,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, most of them in mainland China.

Kemp reiterated his call for citizens to remain calm.

"This is no time for Georgians to panic," Kemp said. Americans' average risk of contracting the disease remains low, he said, echoing Vice President Mike Pence, who is coordinating the federal response.

Kemp welcomed Congress' passage of an $8.3 billion funding package to address coronavirus. States are expected to get a large chunk of that money.

People who have private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare will not have to pay for COVID-19 testing, Kemp said. And Toomey added that the state will cover the cost of testing for people who have no insurance coverage.

The state is working on preventing a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, such as masks.

Asked about any instances of backlash against Asian-Americans, with China being the epicenter of the disease, Toomey said, "We are very concerned about the stigma and discrimination that has emerged."

"The message to the public is that anyone can acquire COVID-19. It's not unique to the Asian population, it's not unique to one race or ethnicity," she said.

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