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Roundup: TN Expands COVID-19 Testing Guidelines, ‘When in Doubt, Get a Test’


Pop-up sites open this weekend where anyone can be tested, regardless of symptoms

Tennessee is launching an expanded, statewide COVID-19 testing effort this weekend. Pop-up drive-through testing sites will be open across the state for any resident to get tested, not just those with symptoms. These will be staffed by the Department of Public Health nurses and National Guard medics. State health commissioner Penny Schwinn said they have enough equipment to test one car every five minutes at every location. These testing sites will be rotating around the state, with new locations each weekend on April 18-19, April 25-26 and May 2-3. Tests are free of charge to anyone with results expected within 72 hours. No appointment is needed for these free weekend pop-up sites. 

In a shift from prior guidance, which limited testing to certain vulnerable populations and those with specific symptoms, Governor Bill Lee said Wednesday, "When in doubt, get a test." He said the state’s clinical understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and anyone that isn’t feeling well should get tested. The World Health Organization recommended expanded testing more than a month ago. According to the governor, limited supplies prevented the state from broadening testing guidelines sooner. 

Gov. Lee asks schools to stay closed through the end of the school year

Governor Bill Lee recommended closing all schools in Tennessee through the end of the school year. Ultimately it will up to the school districts to make this decision, but all districts have complied with his recommendations thus far. Knox County Schools tweeted that it will remain closed, but continue meal distribution, until May 21st - the scheduled final day of the school year. Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Hamblen, Monroe and Morgan counties have also announced plans to comply with the governor’s recommendation. 

State education commissioner Penny Schwinn announced she is forming a COVID-19 child wellbeing taskforce. She said the goal is to “encourage and support local-led innovations and partnerships to check on children and make sure they are safe and well.” She added that the group, which has not yet been formed, will provide guidance regarding school schedules for the upcoming year. Currently, schools are expected to open on schedule next year with students moving on to the next grade level.

Health departments expand contact tracing efforts


State health commissioner Lisa Piercey said she hopes to hire 150 new staff members next week to perform contact tracing and has plans for additional cohorts in the future. These employees will be tasked with calling every confirmed case, gathering information about who’ve they been in contact with and calling those people as well. 

Knox County Health Department is also using contact tracing methods. County health director Martha Buchanan explained it like this: “If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, somebody on my staff is going to reach out to you. We’re going to ask you a whole lot of questions about where you’ve been and who you’ve been with, and we’ll reach out to close contacts and talk to them.”

She said the department performs a risk assessment based on time spent together to determine who to reach out to. Due to social distancing measures, the county has been reaching out to 4-5 contacts per confirmed case. The health department expects this number to be much higher once the safer at home order is lifted.