COVID-19 testing ramping up as Tennessee sees more positive cases

Posted at 7:02 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 10:02:08-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As the number of positive COVID-19 cases grows in Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee said the state has the capacity to test thousands per day.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there are more than 70 cases in Tennessee, with the most in Davidson and Williamson counties. Testing has been available for people with the common and active symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Out of the 352 tests the state public health lab completed as of Tuesday, 22 of them tested positive. Determining the exact number of how many tests have been processed in Tennessee is a difficult and tricky task since private companies, hospital and clinics conduct their own.

Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are among the private companies conducting testing in Tennessee outside of the state’s labs.

Rachel Carr, a Quest Diagnostics spokesperson, said the company is able to perform 10,000 tests a day and up to 20,000 tests a day by the end of this month.

Quest Diagnostics typically tests specimen collected by health care providers who choose to work with them. Like many if not all, tests have only been for patients who meet CDC guidelines.

Carr said the company performs its tests at the Quest Diagnostics Infectious Disease laboratory in San Juan Capistrano, California.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has also been conducting their own tests through the 11 walk-in clinics across Middle Tennessee. Kylie Avery, a VUMC spokesperson, said the hospital assessed 3,000 people for COVID-19. People can go to the sites for screening and if the physician determined that you should be tested, a swab will be taken for the lab.

The current sites are adequately meeting the needs of patients and employees but a plan is in place to expand if needed.

The Metro Public Health Department said plans are underway to have its own assessment sites soon.

In a press conference by the city on Monday, Dr. Alex Jahangir said there have been at least 1,300 tests in Davidson County based on information he heard from medical partners.

Through social media, residents learned of a remote site on Dayton Avenue and received swab tests, much like a flu test, inside a large white tent.

Audra Maxwell and her 12-year-old daughter were made aware of the site through a group of friends. They took the test after Maxwell’s daughter woke up with a fever and feeling fatigued like a flu.

“They ask if you have symptoms because they won’t test if you don’t have the symptoms,” Maxwell said. “They take your info and they give you a mask, hand sanitizer and ask you to sit and wait.”

Michael Kiser said the process was fairly simple and straight-forward. Like hi, he was referred to visit the Dayton Avenue location by the hotline or a medical professional.

“They’re pretty fast,” he recalled. “They check your blood pressure, your pulse and swab before you leave.”

Dr. Corey Slovis of VUMC said by focusing on people displaying only active symptoms, emergency departments can keep space for people who need critical help.

Slovis looks forward to receiving more kits and more machines to arrive to Nashville while operations remain manageable right now.

“Luckily, we are not yet overwhelmed and maybe we won’t be overwhelmed,” he said. “We’re not doing mass screenings and unless someone is sick, we’re not doing a critical evaluation for coronavirus because we don’t have the ability to.”


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What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.