About 11,230 people took the state up on its offer of free COVID-19 tests over the weekend, according to state figures.
For many, they’ve shown no symptoms, but still had reason for concern.
At Gallatin High School, one of 33 testing sites statewide, 820 people were swabbed on Sunday. Many waited in their cars for hours before seeing Tennessee Department of Health nurses or soldiers with the Tennessee National Guard.
They had experiences like Milton Henderson of Nashville, who said he’s been “feeling perfect,” but he has two family members in East Tennessee who was with in the last week who tested positive Friday. So he figured it was better to get tested, especially since the state was offering free screenings.
Employees deemed essential during the safer-at-home order also wanted confirmation of their COVID status. Christine Garner of Hendersonville closes refinanced mortgages, which means going to several different homes a day. She says she tries to keep her distance — they even do the paperwork on the porch now.
But she’s also become hyper sensitive to her body, like a slight tightness in her chest.
“If I know today I have a clean slate, then going forward I know that at least as of today, I’m good,” she says. “Then I’d probably want to be tested again, since I have to keep meeting with people.”
Garner says she’d be willing to get a test every week.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has said this kind of ready access to testing will be necessary as more people start going back to work next month.
‘It’s Better To Know’
Some of those tested over the weekend have been sick and refused testing in other settings. Neysa Glover, who sat in the car for hours in the Gallatin High parking lot while feeling crummy, says she was in the emergency room 10 days prior with cold-like symptoms and vomiting. But the hospital never tested her for the coronavirus, and the symptoms never went away.
“If I didn’t think I had it or had a chance of having it, I would not be here,” she said.
Testing was a household affair for most. In the care with Glover was Freddie Beard, who felt he probably needed a free test too.
He, and others, say the experience is surreal.
“I’ve seen it on the news in places like New York and California and Washington, but I didn’t think this little town of Gallatin, Tenn., would be dealing with this,” he said. “But it is what it is.”
Beard says Gallatin residents may be more aware of the dangers of COVID-19, given Sumner County has more fatalities than almost anywhere in the state, mostly due to an outbreak at a nursing home in Gallatin.
Dane Easler lives near that nursing home, the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, and says following the more-than 20 fatalities from that one facility showed him how serious COVID-19 can be for people like him, with underlying lung conditions like asthma and COPD.
Then a family member died, possibly of the coronavirus. He and his son decided to get tested.
“We’re both willing to sit here as long as we have to to find out,” he said. “It’s better to know.”
The free drive-through testing runs through at least the next two weekends, with new locations added. In Williamson County, emergency officials moved the testing site to the Williamson County Agricultural Center to accommodate the unexpected demand over the weekend.
The 11,230 people represent the largest two days of testing since the pandemic reached Tennessee, with roughly 97,000 total tests administered in the state so far.