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Roundup: Drive-Through Testing in Oak Ridge; Federal Relief Money Coming to TYS

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City of Oak Ridge
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State labor dept. struggles to handle deluge of unemployment claims, payouts

The state of Tennessee paid $94 million in unemployment claims Tuesday, WPLN News reported. But that’s the tip of the iceberg, as many jobless Tennesseans say they’re having trouble even getting their claims filed.

The online portal people use to file their claims was built to handle 15,000 to 20,000 claims per week, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But since the business closures prompted by COVID-19, the number of requests is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The department has ordered two new computer servers to handle the demand, but spokesman Chris Cannon says it will take another week or two to get the servers up and running.

A weekly unemployment claims report from the federal government is expected Thursday. It will tell us how many Tennesseans applied for temporary jobless benefits last week.

McGhee Tyson slated to get $26M in federal relief aid

McGhee Tyson Airport, which serves the Knoxville metro area, stands to get $25.8 million in federal money to offset financial losses caused by COVID-19.

The funds, approved by Congress late last month, can be used to help airports maintain operations, keep their workers employed and make debt payments. McGhee Tyson employs approximately 2,700 people.

“We are thankful for the much-needed relief that the CARES Act provides our airports,” said Eddie Mannis, Chairman of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority (MKAA), said in a statement. “In the coming days, we will be able to confirm the funding options available to us and better define the direct benefits this announcement will have on McGhee Tyson and Downtown Island Airports.”

While McGhee Tyson remains open, passenger traffic has decreased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. MKAA estimates scheduled flights from McGhee Tyson this month will be down 50 percent, and passenger numbers will be down 85 percent. The airport also anticipates flight cancellations each day, said Becky Huckaby, MKAA’s Vice President of Public Relations.

Drive-through testing available in Oak Ridge this week

Today is the first day of a three-day drive-through COVID testing period at Oak Ridge High School.

Today, Thursday and Friday, testing will be available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. But the event is not open to anyone who wants a test: it is aimed at people who are experiencing COVID symptoms and who clear an initial online screening from Kroger Health.

Appointments are required. About 200 appointments have already been scheduled, Oak Ridge spokeswoman Lauren Gray said. There are still slots available. Test results may take three to seven days.

The testing is being made available through a partnership with the Anderson County Department of Health. During the testing period, the Oak Ridge City Schools food pickup line will be temporarily moved to the Band Hall entrance of Oak Ridge High.

Maryville College offers housing for Blount Memorial Hospital employees

Beginning Monday, April 20, up to 80 Blount Memorial Hospital staffers will be able to find rest by crossing U.S. Highway 321. Maryville College says it will open some of its shuttered dorm rooms to hospital workers worried about unintentionally carrying the COVID-19 virus to their homes and families.

On-campus housing at Maryville closed last month after the college moved to online instruction. With Blount Memorial just across U.S. 321, the residence halls made sense as temporary housing for medical personnel, school and hospital officials said. The proximity will also cut down on commute times.

"We appreciate the college’s continued support of the hospital’s efforts to prepare for an outbreak of COVID-19 in our community,” Blount Memorial CEO Don Heinemann said in a statement.

The agreement is set to expire July 31, unless it is extended.