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Free federal 'surge' COVID-19 testing starts in Columbia on Saturday

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A University of South Carolina student turns in a saliva sample to be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

Federal teams will help ramp up COVID-19 testing starting Saturday in Richland County, where cases have spiked in recent weeks with reopening of schools.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will have free testing sites at the University of South Carolina baseball stadium and in Martin Luther King Jr. Park near Five Points for two weeks. Tests are self-administered nasal swabs with results coming in as early as three days.

The sites meant to help quell outbreaks in coronavirus hotspots can test up to 5,000 people a day — the equivalent of an average day of tests across the entire state. The tests is expected to be helpful in finding more people who are infected with COVID-19 but showing no symptoms and are likely to spread the deadly virus.

Richland County trails only Charleston and Greenville counties in total number of COVID-19 cases since March, with close to 13,500 positive tests as of Wednesday.

But during the past two weeks, Richland's average case rate is more than double any S.C. urban county and was the fourth highest in the state behind three rural counties, according to state public health data.

COVID-19 cases have risen sharply in Richalnd County since the fall semester started at the University of South Carolina. More than 2,000 students have tested positive since classes resumed a month ago, though case numbers have slowed in the past week.

What federal officials have dubbed as "surge testing" comes after Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, visited USC last week. Federal health officials have brought in surge teams to several states with major outbreaks in recent months.

The S.C. tests are being done in partnership with USC, Gov. Henry McMaster's office, DHEC and the city of Columbia.

Registration ahead of time is required at Here is the testing schedule:

Founders Park (USC's baseball stadium), 431 Williams St.

Drive-thru and walk-up testing available 

  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 19 
  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 21-Sept. 25 
  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 27-Oct. 3

Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 2300 Greene St.

Walk-up testing only

  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 19
  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 21-Oct. 3

Follow Andy Shain on Facebook (andyshain12) and Twitter (@andyshain)

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