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Roundup: As State Works to Test More Tennesseans, Evidence COVID Is Spreading in Prisons

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Weekend COVID testing updates

Knox County’s health department and the city of Knoxville will offer drive-through and walk-up COVID tests at the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum parking garage Saturday, April 25.

Testing is slated for 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., or until necessary testing supplies run out. Appointments are not required. Photo ID should be brought along, if available.

“We have been concerned about the lack of access for testing in certain parts of our community,” KCHD Director Martha Buchanan said in a statement. “We want to make testing more accessible for people in these areas. So, we selected Saturday’s location based on our testing data and site specifications that support a drive-thru/walk-up model.”

Results may be available three to five days later, depending on workloads for the processing labs that handle the samples.

The East Tennessee Regional Health Office, in conjunction with the health departments of Anderson, Hamblen and Jefferson counties, will hold two drive-through testing events this weekend.

Testing will be available on Saturday, April 25, at the Walters State Community College Expo Center in White Pine. Sunday, April 26, testing moves to Roane State Community College’s Oak Ridge campus. Both sites will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Nurses and/or National Guard medics will administer the now-familiar PCR “swab” nasal tests. Results may be available within three days after samples arrive at a processing lab; timing, of course, may vary depending on the backlog at those labs. Everyone who gets tested will be informed of their results.

The mobile testing is part of a shift toward testing broader groups of people in hopes of getting a better picture of the scope and patterns of the novel coronavirus in Tennessee. The state Department of Health advises people to be prepared for long lines at the testing sites.

COVID cluster reported in Middle TN food plant

120 employees of Tyson Foods’ Goodlettsville plant have tested positive for COVID-19, Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department said Thursday.

MPHD officials say they’re in touch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Tyson Foods to ensure best practices for health and safety are being followed. The plant northeast of Nashville processes pork and beef products.

COVID cases have been reported at 60 meatpacking plants in 23 states, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Journalism. Some of those plants have had to temporarily close.

COVID spreading in Tennessee prisons

State health officials are trying to measure the extent and spread of COVID-19 in prisons. More than 170 cases have been confirmed in four prisons, and testing is still in progress.

Much like testing of the general population, testing for COVID in Tennessee correctional facilities has generally been limited to inmates showing symptoms or thought to have been exposed to the virus, state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said this week. Some asymptomatic prisoners have also been tested. Roughly 500 of the state’s 21,000 prison inmates had been tested as of April 20.

Most of the cases confirmed so far are concentrated in the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, seventy-six miles west-southwest of Knoxville.

Justice advocates are concerned about the vulnerability of the state’s prison population, where it is possible COVID-19 would spread easily among a tightly-packed population that has little opportunity for social distancing.

The Sycamore Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Nashville, reported last week that 60 percent of the state’s prisons and local jails were at or near their maximum capacity, making it harder for jail staff to fight the spread of the virus. Further, the report said virus outbreaks in the prison system could pose a threat to the larger public when infected inmates are released.