Tennessee has completed nearly 35,000 tests for COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon — more than most surrounding states, as Gov. Bill Lee often points out. But that number is expected to surge in the coming days as some labs turn to a much quicker test.
Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, says at least two private labs have access to a test that can be done in 45 minutes. Typically, the COVID-19 test requires six hours of lab work.
Piercey did not say what company or organization is running the test. But once fully operational next week, she says each lab should be able to process 1,000 samples each day, so long as they can remain supplied. There’s been a shortage of the chemicals used in the COVID-19 confirmation tests, which has slowed many labs down.
“Many patients are frustrated by the time it takes to receive an answer when we test them for coronavirus,” Vanderbilt University Medical Center CEO Jeff Balser said Thursday. “The supplies needed to perform the test are the challenge. By necessity, we’re prioritizing the limited reagents we can obtain at VUMC for testing patients admitted to our hospitals, and for testing our front-line care providers.”
Balser says the hospital can turn around results in 24 hours. But for most patients, they’re being advised five to seven days.
Where To Go (After Calling First)
Testing is more available than it’s ever been, but it’s still only for people with symptoms. Patients are generally told to call one of several hotlines. The state’s (833-556-2476) is staffed 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Metro’s received 600 calls on Wednesday alone.
Callers are asked about symptoms and risk factors. If needed, they’re directed to the increasing array of centers, mapped out by the state here.
The site depends on where someone lives. Outside of Nashville, the local public health department is often taking the samples. The Tennessee Guard is helping them out in some cases.
In Nashville or Williamson County, VUMC is doing almost all of the testing through designated walk-in clinics, though the samples are often sent to other labs. Vanderbilt also has a tent in Woodbine. More communities are spinning up drive-through testing. In Nashville, three sites opened this week for Monday-Wednesday-Friday service. Rutherford County now has one too.
For the most part, hospitals say they shouldn’t be anyone’s first stop.
“Individuals who may be experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 but are otherwise healthy should seek follow-up care, with their physician,” Tristar Health said in a written statement. “The emergency department should remain a resource for only those that are critically ill or injured.”