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Lines for COVID testing grow as Calhoun County’s case count passes 900

Testing Harvest Church

It was crowded at Harvest Church of God in Golden Springs during COVID-19 testing on Thursday morning. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

Tanya Coleman of Jacksonville already knows she has COVID-19, but she was among the dozens of people lined up for drive-thru coronavirus testing at Harvest Church of God in Golden Springs on Thursday morning. 

“I feel fine. I just have some sniffles, but I tested positive,” said Coleman, speaking through a mask in the driver’s seat of her car. Coleman said she brought her daughter to get tested, before the start of school. 

Their car was part of two lines of vehicles that curved around the church when the testing site opened at 7 a.m. That’s an early start, compared to past drive-thru testing events local officials have held around the county, but local officials say local demand for the tests is higher than it’s ever been. 

“According to the fire chief, there were people already lining up here at 5:45,” said Michael Webb, leader of the traffic division for the Anniston Police Department. Webb said there were about 100 cars in line as testing began at 7 a.m.

Early in the pandemic, crowds at testing events measured in the bare dozens, with community leaders often showing up — even when they didn’t have symptoms — to set an example and encourage testing. That has changed. A recent testing event in Wellborn drew more than 300 participants. Local officials said this week that they expect more than 400 at the Golden Springs site. 

Coronavirus came to Calhoun County relatively late. Even now, the per-capita rate of infection here is among the lowest in the state. But even here, there are signs that the virus is truly taking off. There were 908 people in the county who’d had the virus as of Thursday morning, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health. That’s roughly twice as many as the county saw two weeks ago. 

The virus has killed six people in the county, though the last local death from COVID-19 happened weeks ago. For much of the pandemic, Anniston hospitals have had more than enough capacity to handle patients with serious cases of COVID-19. 

That’s starting to change, too. Officials at Regional Medical Center announced earlier this week that they’d open a third coronavirus unit at the hospital, after the number of patients outstripped the 44 beds already set aside for COVID-19 patients.

Hospital CEO Louis Bass said Wednesday that 12 patients with COVID-19 have reached the intensive care level; RMC and its sister hospital Stringfellow typically can candle 24 ICU patients. Bass said the hospital has sent some non-coronavirus ICU patients as far away as Nashville, because the hospital’s usual in-state transfer hospitals are using their beds for coronavirus patients. 

Statewide, 72,696 people had been infected with coronavirus by Thursday, with 1,357 dead. 

The rise in infection numbers clearly isn’t due to the rise in testing. The number of tests conducted statewide in July was more than twice the number of tests conducted in May, but in May, about one in 12 people tested came back with a positive result. Now one out of every six tests comes back positive, according to ADPH numbers. 

The tests still draw the worried well, though. Fran Byrd of Anniston said he was feeling fine as he waited in the line of cars at the testing site Friday. 

“I come into contact with a lot of people, and I just wanted to be sure,” he said. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.