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ETSU establishes COVID-19 testing site

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Mar 17, 2020 at 8:57 PM

Dressed head-to-toe in her personal protective equipment, Leann Hurd is on the front lines of the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic in Johnson City.

“You never expect this to actually happen,” said Hurd, an internal medicine nursing supervisor at ETSU Health. “When you go through nursing school and you’re going through your clinicals, they tell you about this, but you never expect it to actually happen.”

Still, she’s prepared to do her part to help combat the virus’ spread.

“Seeing it coming true — become real — it’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s what we trained for,” she said of the pandemic.

Hurd is one of several workers on the front lines at ETSU Health’s newly established mobile COVID-19 testing center at 325 North State of Franklin Road. And though she and the other nurses will be swabbing patients for influenza and COVID-19, she’s not worried about getting exposed to the disease.

“I’m wearing my PPE, I’ve got my gloves, my mask, my gown — I’m taking every precaution, taking showers when I get home and staying away from the kids until I have enough time to clean everything up,” Hurd said.

There’s been “a tremendous amount of work” since Friday to get the testing center operational, said Dr. Jonathan Moorman, East Tennessee State University’s infectious diseases division chief at the Quillen College of Medicine.

“I think we’re not completely reinventing the wheel; they’re doing sites like this all over the country in response to COVID-19,” Dr. Moorman said. “We recognize that, while we don’t have evidence of community spread here, we’re not going to know until we actually start testing and this will allow us to do that.”

Moorman, who is part of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 task force, said the testing will allow the university to keep cases out of healthcare facilities and lessen the strain on the region’s healthcare system. Patients will be pre-screened and pre-registered by phone before they’re allowed to be tested at the facility. Dr. Moorman could not say how many test kits they have on-hand, but said they “had enough to get through the week.”

Across the state, the Tennessee Department of Health has identified 73 cases in the state, including one in Sullivan County. No other Northeast Tennessee counties have reported cases, however. In the United States, more than 5,000 cases have been reported, along with nearly 200,000 infections worldwide as of Tuesday afternoon.

“(This) is what we’re here for,” said Dr. Sheri Holmes, ETSU Health’s chief medical officer. “We tend to care for the underserved, uninsured patients — that’s our mission. I think the public looks to us, and right now, people are suspect of their government, suspect of their leaders, they may even be suspect of their health systems, so we want to put ourselves forward as the people who are knowledgeable and can be trusted.”

Patients cannot register on-site, but ETSU Health has set up a hotline to be pre-screened and pre-register, (423) 433-6110. The site, which is now operational, is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tests will be provided by LabCorp, and are covered by most insurance and Medicare.

“We have a great opportunity to not let it get out of control here, because I think we're a little bit ahead of the game,” Dr. Moorman said. “We have to be prepared, and hopefully we’re over-prepared — I would love to be over-prepared.”

Previously reported: 

East Tennessee State University will be home to a mobile testing site for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) starting on Tuesday. 

“One of the best ways we can mitigate the spread of the disease is to increase testing availability so that people who have a positive test will take proper quarantine measures and not continue to spread the disease,” Dr. Jonathan Moorman, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine, said in a statement. “ETSU Health is providing this site to serve our community by lightening the load on our health care system and the local health departments.”

ETSU will be partnering with commercial testing company LabCorp to provide the tests, which will be available to those with and without insurance by appointment. 

“Individuals will need to have symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection,” Moorman, who was named to Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 task force, said. “We do not want people who just have a runny nose to take limited resources away from people who really need the test.”

Patients will undergo pre-screening and pre-registration by phone. If the patient has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they will be directed to the testing site where a nasal swab will be conducted to test them for COVID-19 and influenza. Test results “may be available within 72 hours.” 

ETSU Health’s Coronavirus Testing Hotline can be reached at (423) 433-6110 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The testing site will be located at the university’s clinic parking lot, 325 North State of Franklin Road, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Registration is not available on-site. 

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