As Georgia expands COVID-19 testing, here is what to expect

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp says any state resident who has symptoms of COVID-19 and a doctor's referral can now get screened for the novel coronavirus.

But, here are a few things you need to know:

  • COVID-19 testing is free to state residents.
  • To qualify, you must be symptomatic and have a referral from a doctor or your health department.
  • Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell.
  • Participants must schedule an appointment to be tested.
  • Testing site information is available on the Georgia Department of Public Health's online search tool, which can be found at

The state has also launched a mobile testing program that will offer drive-thru testing sites in Augusta, Milledgeville and Tifton.

At most of these testing sites, you can get swabbed, or swab your own nose, without leaving your vehicle. 

It takes about 24 to 48 hours to get your results.

Another big question: how many Georgians have already been exposed to this new virus?

To get a better idea of the spread, health teams are branching out across hard-hit Fulton and DeKalb Counties, asking selected residents to take an COVID-19 antibody test.

This is part of a survey organized by the Fulton and DeKalb Departments of Public Health, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC.

Here’s how the process will work.

  • Participants will be randomly selected.
  • The testing is voluntary and there is no charge.
  • Everyone in the home, including children, will be tested.
  • Participants will be asked to answer health questions and give a blood sample.

Antibody tests are designed to screen for proteins in the blood that signal a person has fought off an infection in the past.

Dr. Nicholas Beaulieu of Highland Medicine says this kind of testing can help health officials get a better idea how widespread the virus is in a particular area.

“If you have a prevalence rate of 20% of this virus in your community, it's probably not a good idea to reopen," Dr. Beaulieu says. "If it's 2% to 3%, like we anticipate Atlanta will be, I think you can start to look at when it's safe to reopen and how to protect the people who are vulnerable."

Fox 5 photojournalist  Eli Jordan paid $50 for of his own antibody test at Beaulieu's Atlanta practice.

He is hoping to find out if a flu-like illness he had in late December could have been early COVID-19.

Dr. Beaulieu says many of his patients are getting tested for the same reason: they suspect they've had a brush with the novel virus.

"I've had a lot of negative tests that surprised people," Beaulieu says.  "Everybody thinks that thing they got back in February, which as about as bad a cold as they've ever hard, or with the shakes and chills, was COVID," Beaulieu says. "Apparently it is not.  Because most of our tests are negative."

The antibody tests are not foolproof and can only detect if a person has been infected in the past.

The COVID-19 diagnostic tests are only able to detect an active infection.