Hundreds of people drove into one of the parking lots at the Infinite Energy Center in a single file line Wednesday to get tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments held a COVID-19 testing day at the center in unincorporated Duluth for anyone who believed they have symptoms of the coronavirus disease. District Health Director Dr. Audrey Arona said people had to sign up in advance and that more than 800 people signed up for a test, filling up every available slot. Later in the day, Gov. Brian Kemp said 848 people had been tested at the site.

“We are grateful for the partnerships that have allowed us to open this larger drive thru facility today,” Arona told reporters. “We know there are sick (people) in our community anxious to learn if they have COVID-19.”

The special testing day at the Infinite Energy Center was held a day after Gwinnett surpassed Cobb County to have the fourth highest number of cases among Georgia’s 159 counties. As of noon Wednesday, the day of the testing event, a total of 1,263 Gwinnett residents had contracted the disease and 46 people in the county had died.

As of noon on Saturday, Gwinnett’s numbers had climbed to 1,421 cases, but the death toll remained at 46.

Arona attributed Gwinnett’s rise in the rankings to more testing being made available in the county. In addition to the special one-off testing day done at the Infinite Energy Center on Wednesday, the health department is conducting testing daily, by appointment Mondays through Saturdays at the Lawrenceville district office on Riverside Parkway.

“We are following our numbers closely for our district (and) what we’re seeing is as we increase testing, we’re going to find more people who are positive,” Arona said.

The health department expected to conduct about 1,800 tests this past week and another 2,200 tests during the upcoming week across the three-county health district.

Arona said the department has seen a 16% “positivity” rate among people tested.

“It’s important for everyone to know that’s other illnesses and pathogens out there besides just COVID-19,” Arona said.

Residents who went to the Infinite Energy Center on Wednesday lined up in their cars — signs were put out urging them to stay in their vehicles — and went through checkpoints to verify they had appointments.

Once they got into the parking deck, they were directed by health department officials and National Guard soldiers to parking spaces where a health department representative wearing gloves, protective gowns and face shields asked them some questions and then collected a nasal swab.

The residents were then given information about how to check their results, which are expected to be available within 48 hours, and then allowed to leave. Health officials will also call residents whose test shows a positive result for the disease.

“What’s important to remember is that a negative test does mean a person should disregard the measures that we’re recommending: social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, hand washing, stay home when you’re sick,” Arona said. “All of those still remain paramount to slowing the spread of this virus in our community. This is working as our curve is flattening so I encourage everyone to continue to follow all of the guidelines in place.

“Together, we can help prevent the spread of this COVID-19 virus.”

Anyone who would like to schedule an appointment at a health department testing site can set that up by calling 770-513-5631.

“Don’t be frustrated because we have testing at our other locations each week, Monday through Friday and Saturday,” Arona said. “As we continue to receive test kits, we are planning to continue these larger drive thru sites at least once a week.”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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