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Roundup: TN Jobless Claims Skyrocket; Testing the Uninsured

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Brandon Hollingsworth, WUOT News
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Jacobs says uninsured Knox countians can get COVID tests for free

Uninsured people in Knox County can get tested for the novel coronavirus without charge, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said.

To qualify, those without insurance must first call the Knox County Health Department at (865) 215-5555. Health Department staff will assess patients over the phone to determine testing options. To get the test, people must be exhibit the symptoms of COVID-19 and meet clinical guidelines. Walk-in tests are not available at present.

“One of the most important things we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is extensive testing,” Jacobs said in a statement. “As we continue to keep our community protected, we’re happy to help people who cannot afford that cost.”

A tweet from county government said testing remains “extremely limited.” The test will be paid for by surplus funds from the current budget year, Jacobs told WUOT News. He said he is hopeful some federal money may help cover the costs.

Tennessee shows big rise in unemployment claims, in line with national stats

Thursday morning, federal officials released a report showing 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment for the week ending March 21. It’s a staggering number that far outpaces any previous claims report since those statistics began to be tracked in 1967.

Nearly 40,000 Tennesseans filed for unemployment last week, according to the federal report. That’s a major jump from the roughly 6,000 claims filed the week before.

Fearing a negative effect on Wall Street and policy decisions, federal labor officials asked states to wait to release their data until after the national report was digested. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development complied, and said its state-level claims numbers will come out on Friday.

But don’t be surprised if the state’s figures don’t match up with what you’re reading right now. The state report will contain data through March 14. The federal report contains data through March 21.

Economists are watching closely for future reports, because they will reflect the effects of widespread limits or shutdowns on food service, hospitality and tourism announced at the state, county and city level in the past week. The statewide employment report for March will likely be issued late next month.

TN National Guard members head to 35 counties to aid health officials

150 medically-trained Tennessee National Guard members are being sent to help establish COVID-19 assessment sites in 35 counties that have requested them.

The Guard members, which include soldiers and airmen, heard from Gov. Bill Lee this morning. "You are now finding yourselves on the front lines of that attack and it’s deadly important that we do this right," Lee said.

Tennessee Supreme Court extends order that limits in-person court proceedings

State courts have continued to operate during the COVID pandemic, but on a limited basis. Chief Justice Jeff Bivins ordered all but urgent court business to be suspended or carried out by remote means. That order has been extended to April 30.

Bivins has also ordered judicial districts to come up with plans to reduce jail populations. Earlier this week, a coalition of social justice and criminal defense groups urged the state’s highest court to take steps to reduce the threat of the novel coronavirus spreading in the close quarters or prisons and jails.

Nashville is already moving that way, including limiting arrests and releasing people who were jailed in pre-trial detention. Knox County DA Charme Allen told WATE her staff has already been working to ease the pre-trial detention jail population. Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said inmates and jail staff are screened for COVID symptoms, and surfaces in the jail are being disinfected regularly.

Oak Ridge: Get outside, but keep your distance

As East Tennessee embraces some favorable weather this week, Oak Ridge officials say residents should live by the CDC’s advice to maintain a six-foot radius between themselves and other people, even when spending time outside.

“It’s important that people get out and get fresh air and exercise, but the need to maintain their social distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus,” Oak Ridge Parks and Recreation Director Jon Hetrick said in a press release.

Oak Ridge’s public parks and greenways are still open, though restroom facilities at some parks have closed.

The city says residents who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms should not go to parks or use walking trails.