- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A federally funded initiative to ramp up coronavirus testing in the nation’s hotspots has arrived in South Carolina’s capital city.

People ages 5 and older will be able to access free tests through self-administered nasal swabs at two locations in Columbia for the next two weeks starting Saturday.

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams joined Gov. Henry McMaster and other leaders at one of those locations, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, on the first day of the testing program. The initiative is part of efforts by the federal government to support communities that have seen recent increases in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, officials said.

Adams demonstrated how to do the test while speaking to reporters at the testing site. People do not have to have symptoms to take the test. The sites can test up to 5,000 people per day.

“I’m issuing the challenge, South Carolina. Come on out and get tested. It’s free. It’s easy. It’s available and it’s a great way to make sure you can protect your family and your community,” Adams said.

The other testing location is located at Founders Park at the University of South Carolina, where more than 2,000 students and employees have contracted the virus since Aug. 1.

The two sites will be able to conduct up to 5,000 tests a day. Officials said the testing initiative’s aim was to detect cases that would otherwise go undetected, and to help middle-sized metropolitan areas such as Columbia flatten the curve.

According to data kept by The Associated Press, there were about 255 new cases per 100,000 people in South Carolina over the past two weeks, which ranks ninth in the country for new cases per capita.

As of Friday, health officials have reported more than 133,300 cases and at least 3,010 deaths since the start of the outbreak. More than 1 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted in the state so far, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The surgeon general also urged people to make sure they get a flu shot.

“It’s critically important that we not have a bad flu season on top of a bad COVID season because it could overwhelm our health care systems and it will confuse our ability to screen for COVID,” he said.

Those interested in getting tested can register online at www.doineedacovid19test.com.

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