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Effort underway to test thousands of homeless Atlantans

The testing will take place in two waves.

ATLANTA — This week, Fulton County and Mercy Care started testing thousand of homeless Atlantans for COVID-19. The population is one that can’t easily practice social distancing.

“They share cigarettes, they share liquids, so the way that they live inherently makes them more exposed," explained Tom Andrews, the CEO of Mercy Care.

“Forty percent are over fifty-five, they typically have co-morbid conditions, and chronic diseases," he added.

RELATED: Atlanta's homeless seek shelter at airport; Officials say 'isolation facility' close to opening

The testing will take place in two waves. First the county will test 1,300 staff and residents at six of the largest shelters in Fulton County. That wave will run from this week until April 20. 

Then, they will administer another 1,000 tests to homeless people living under bridges and in encampments. If they test positive, the Department of Public Health and the State will be notified. Then Grady EMS will bring them to quarantine at a hotel in downtown Atlanta.

RELATED: Atlanta company creates saliva-based COVID-19 test

Andrews admits there are challenges in notifying those who test positive who live on the street, but they have outreach teams who can help.

“Either through cell phones - if they have cell phones - or the location of where they are camping or what encampment they’re in," Andrews said.

RELATED: Couple works to help homeless population during coronavirus pandemic

These swab tests have a one day turn around. So far, they’ve tested the staff and 220 residents at the Gateway Center, Downtown. They are still waiting on the results of the residents’ tests, but we do know one staff member has tested positive. They were asymptomatic and are following CDC guidelines for quarantine.

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