Gov. Bill Lee announced during a press conference Wednesday that free COVID-19 testing will be provided to Tennesseans regardless of whether they present the traditional symptoms of the virus. The expanded testing effort comes at a time when state and local leaders are pushing to reopen the economy.
Governor Lee said that he had directed the Unified Command group to expand the state’s testing capacity with the promotion of a safe reopening in mind.
“This increased testing capacity will empower our citizens to make decisions around their health as they consider how it is that they will get back into the workforce as we take steps to open up the economy,” Lee said.
The Unified Command was formed March 23 as a way to streamline the state’s response to the outbreak. Led by Stuart McWhorter, former Commissioner of the TN Dept. of Finance and Administration, the group also includes Dept. of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Director Patrick Sheehan and Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, the Adjutant General of the TN Dept. of Military.
“Our clinical understanding of COVID-19 is changing rapidly, and we need every Tennessean who isn’t feeling well to understand that they have access to testing,” Lee said. “Even [with] the traditional COVID-19 symptoms of fever, or of cough or of shortness of breath — even beyond those traditional symptoms we want Tennesseans who aren’t feeling well to get tested.”
In the first step of the expansion, the Tennessee National Guard will be opening 15 drive-through locations across the state this weekend, April 18-19. The list of locations to be open this weekend has been posted here, and sites will be open the weekends of April 25-26 and May 2-3 as well.
“In addition to the drive-through testing sites that we’ll be having on the weekends, Tennesseans need to remember that they can get a test free of charge five days a week at every state rural health department across every county in Tennessee,” Lee said.
Knox County’s testing site is the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) building at 140 Dameron Ave, Knoxville.
At the same conference, Piercey echoed Lee’s statements on the importance of testing for reopening the economy:
“We know that widespread testing and contact tracing are the keys for guiding our efforts, not only to protect health and well-being, but to also take the steps to reopen our economy,” Piercey said.
Piercey also stressed the expanded access component of the announcement, given that no one will have to pay for a test.
“These are free of charge, and so we don’t want any financial or monetary barriers, or insurance barriers, to be put up between you — if you think you need a test — and actually getting that,” Piercey said.
Lastly, Piercey said that while there isn’t an unlimited supply of tests, the only factors limiting testing at this point are the time and manpower needed to get a patient through the process. The recent expansion of capacity is due to both a broadening of official guidelines and deals with private firms.
“Not only have we been able to procure more through our supply chain and our partners at TEMA, but there has also been an expansion of what is allowable per CDC Standards,” Piercey said. “They have expanded the list of the kinds of swabs that you can use and some of the other supplies in the testing process, so that is what has helped us to expand our capacity.”
Knox County residents who want to get a test from KCHD are advised to call first at (865) 215-5555.