“We’ve had a great response so far. We have 181 appointments set up for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so far,” said Gary Mayes, director of the health department. “And we’re continuing to take calls to book appointments for the next two weeks.”
The testing program, which begins Monday at the department’s main office in Blountville, was announced this Wednesday, so Thursday was the first day phone lines were open for taking appointments.
Who can get a test?
Any Sullivan County resident who feels the need to be tested for COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, will be able to get a free drive-thru test. It’s a big change from prior testing guidelines, under which tests were administered only to those with certain symptoms or who had traveled to certain areas.
“We want to test as many people as we can,” Mayes said when the program was announced. “We’re going to use all the test kits we have, and we have ordered more and will order more again based on public response.”
If you want one
Appointments are required and can be made by calling (423) 279-2777 Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where and when?
Testing will be conducted by the health department at the agency’s main office (154 Blountville Bypass) from 1 to 4 p.m. daily, Mondays through Fridays. Testing will not be available on weekends at the site.
The test type
The testing method will be a nasopharyngeal swab and results could take five to seven days. This is the test where a swab is inserted into one of your nostrils. Mayes said some people find it uncomfortable, but it only takes a couple of seconds. Some who have had the test said it is painful.
What the test tells you
This is not the “antibody” test. It will show a positive result only if you are currently positive for COVID-19. The antibody test, which will reveal if someone has already had the virus, is not being given during this effort. But Mayes said the health department expects to begin offering those soon.
Why testing is important
Testing as many people as possible will help health officials get a clearer picture of how many cases there are in communities across the region and the nation, Mayes said. The numbers also help health officials better understand how contagious COVID-19 is in particular areas and gives insights into how well mitigation efforts like social distancing are working.
COVID-19 vs. influenza
The novel Coronavirus COVID-19 is more easily spread than annual influenza.
“It’s a very contagious virus,” Mayes said, adding there is some good news for our region:
• Compared to early March national measures for COVID-19’s contagiousness, the most recent numbers from Vanderbilt University’s data on Northeast Tennessee show a much lower “R-naught.” That’s scientific jargon for how many people an infected person is likely to infect. In early March the national R-naught figure for COVID-19 was 3, Mayes said, meaning each infected person infected three new patients, and they in turn infected three each, and so on. Vanderbilt’s latest R-naught calculation for COVID-19 in Northeast Tennessee is 1.6, Mayes said, but that’s still higher than annual influenza’s R-naught of 1.
Mayes said COVID-19’s R-naught number now varies in different locales across the nation, with it obviously being higher in areas described as hot spots and lower in others. Mayes said our region’s R-naught of 1.6 demonstrates the social distancing and business closures are working.
“I applaud our residents and business owners and workers for following the guidelines, which have meant huge sacrifices for many, many people,” Mayes said. “You break the chain of spreadability when you stay home and don’t interact with others.”
What else you can do
The health department reminds everyone there are many things you can do to reduce the impact of COVID-19:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand sanitizer) for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing
• Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
• Stay home when you are sick
• Cover you coughs and sneezes with your arm or tissue
• Clean and disinfect objects and frequently touched surfaces regularly
• Practice social/physical distancing from others, be safer at home
All Tennesseans, especially those in high-risk populations, should take the following actions to reduce the possibility of becoming infected with COVID-19:
• Keep space (at least six feet) between yourself and others
• Limit your time in public to essential needs only, such as grocery trips, medical care, pharmacy needs or emergencies
• When you are in public, avoid crowds as much as possible, keep away from others who may be sick, and wash your hands often
• Avoid nonessential travel, especially on airlines and cruise ships
• Stay home as much as possible to reduce your risk of being exposed
The Sullivan County Regional Health Department has more information available at www.sullivanhealth.org.