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Tennessee establishing 15 remote testing sites for COVID-19; statewide cases hit 52

David Floyd • Mar 16, 2020 at 8:03 PM

With the number of confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Tennessee at 52, Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that the state plans on rolling out 15 remote testing sites in the state’s six major metropolitan areas by the end of the week.

“The more folks can get tested, the more likely it is that we will slow the spread of this disease,” Lee said during a press briefing Monday afternoon. 

Lee said some of those sites are already open.

The Tennessee Department of Health updated its figures Monday to reflect the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, which now stands at 52. Davidson County has the most cases out of any county at 25. Williamson County, with 18 cases, has the second-highest number in the state. Sullivan County still has one case, and Washington County has no confirmed cases.

Thirty three of those 52 cases were identified in commercial or private labs. The Tennessee State Public Health Laboratory, which the state reports has completed a total of 289 tests, has identified the remaining 19.

Following a call with the White House and other governors, Lee said it’s his understanding that millions of tests will be distributed across the country in the next two weeks. He said the state currently has the capacity to test thousands of people a day. Lee also stressed that uninsured patients can receive testing at no cost.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the state has 11 testing sites operational as of Monday and has plans in the next three to five days to set up more.

Although she noted there is a need for testing in rural parts of Tennessee, Piercey said the state is statistically most likely to find cases in metropolitan areas. She said the state is looking how to address testing in rural areas if and when that becomes an issue.

Piercey noted that most of the confirmed cases are in urban parts of the state, but said that people living in rural areas should not become complacent about social distancing. The White House announced Monday that it’s urging people to avoid groups of more than 10 people.

Piercey also said that testing should be focused on people who have symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and those who are feeling ill and were in close contact in someone with the disease. Officials want to prioritize tests for healthcare workers and people over the age of 65.

Shortly before Lee’s address to members of the media on Monday afternoon, leaders in the General Assembly announced that legislators will limit all remaining legislative business to passing a balanced budget and “any associated actions that will ensure Tennessee can keep its doors open.”

“This is a serious time for our state and country, and we all must make adjustments in response to this threat,” Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton said in a joint statement Monday. “Our approach will take into account the unique public health challenges this complex virus presents, as well as the economic disruption likely to occur as a result of its spread. Passing an amended budget now and recessing will allow the General Assembly to focus on an immediate plan of action, while still determining needs down the road.”

Lee told media that his administration plans to present a budget by Wednesday.

“We certainly know that the economic conditions have changed dramatically in the last few days” Lee said. “Forecasts for growth, forecasts for the future economy of our country have changed dramatically, and therefore we have a responsibility to adjust as well in the state government.”

Following his request Monday morning that all schools temporarily close as a means of mitigating the spread of the virus, Lee said the Tennessee Department of Education is working with the federal government to make sure the state receives waivers that allow low-income students to continue to receive meals.

“We want to assure families that when a school closes, if their children qualified for lunch in that school, then they will continue to receive lunches,” he said.

He said the state will be distributing those lunches to those families.

“It’s undefined yet exactly how that will happen,” he said. “Some districts are already doing that and providing a model for that.”

Lee also urged Tennesseans to work together and support their neighbors.

“If you’re a church, you need to consider adopting a school,” Lee said. “If you’re a family who has an opportunity to keep a kid for a neighbor whose parents both work, you ought to consider helping that family through this time of transition.”

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