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Roundup: Rapid Testing Coming to Knoxville, Loosened Graduation Requirements for the Class of 2020

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Rapid Testing Coming to Knoxville, but Only at Some Private Clinics

Some private medical clinics in Nashville now have Abbott rapid coronavirus testing machines that can give results in less than 15 minutes. American Family Care clinics plan to implement the same technology at their four Knoxville locations within the next week, according to AFC Urgent Care Centers CEO Bruce Irwin. He says traditional testing has been inefficient.

“The test we have now can take days to weeks to get back. So very often, when we test someone, even if it is positive by the time it gets back they’re already in the hospital or they’re well," Irwin said. 

The state health department also has a rapid testing machine, but it only can perform one hundred and twenty tests at this time. State health commissioner Lisa Piercey said they will use the new technology sparingly, for now, limiting it to healthcare workers and people who are at nursing homes or in hospitals. Traditional testing with longer turnaround results remain the "bread and butter" of testing in the state, Piercey said. 

Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan said the department will significantly increase their testing capacity starting Monday, but has no current plans to receive or use a rapid testing machine. In Knox County, people still need to meet certain guidelines, such as symptoms or interactions with an infected person, to be tested.

 

However, Hamblen County is relaxing its criteria for COVID testing. The Citizen Tribune reports the county’s health department will test anyone who requests it. The previous standard, in line with other health departments, limited tests only to people who exhibited symptoms. Even under the broader approach, hours are limited and appointments must be made with the Hamblen County Health Department.

 

Loosened Graduation Requirements for the Class of 2020

 

Graduating high school seniors will get a break under emergency rules the state Board of Education adopted Thursday. The board approved several rule changes to reflect the disruptions caused by extended school closures, including not penalizing graduating seniors for not taking the ACT and SAT college exam and slightly reducing the number of credits required for graduation to reflect where classes ended last month.

 

State lawmakers already said teachers should be held harmless for the disruptions caused by extended school closures that began in March. Teachers will not be penalized for student test scores, and required observation periods are being waived. Local districts may still use the information collected earlier in the year to give teachers general feedback.

 

Food Boxes for Service Workers

Today, restaurant, hotel and bar workers are encouraged to pick up boxes of food in downtown. The Embassy Suites on Gay street will be distributing 300 free food boxes to service workers from 9 am to noon Friday. According to 2018 labor statistics, Knoxville has more than 35,000 food preparation and service workers. Some local service workers started fundraising efforts after restaurant closures due to the coronavirus, and thousands of unemployment checks are expected to go out this week. 

 

East Tennessee Hospitals Preparing for Surge

Governor Bill Lee has not determined whether or not he will extend the safe at home order, currently set to expire on April 15. But he said models suggest social distancing has worked in slowing the spread of the virus. State health commissioner Lisa Piercey said while projections are more hopeful, the department is still preparing for a surge in the state.

 

In East Tennessee, hospitals are prepared to surge to a capacity of up to 5,000, double the standard bed capacity. Regional hospitals, including Covenant Health, Tennova and UT Medical Center are part of a task force focused on expanding accessibility. Previous plans had included caring for patients at Knoxville Expo Center, but have been put on hold amidst projections of lower infection rates. 

 

WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth contributed to this report.