As COVID-19 testing continues to expand in Shelby County over the next few weeks, officials say people who are feeling just slightly under the weather should be next in line for a screening.
For the past month, testing has been largely limited—first to people exhibiting serious symptoms who had been pre-diagnosed by doctors to rule out other causes and to the elderly and those with chronic conditions. About 10,000 people have been tested so far in the county.
“We have tried to focus on healthcare workers, first responders and those with symptoms that were very suggestive of COVID-19, particularly moderate to severe symptoms,” says Dr. Jon McCullers, the head of clinical affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).
But as testing expands—with a goal of around 1,000-2,000 per day—people who exhibit mild symptoms won't just be sent off to self-isolate and drink plenty of water, as intially recommended in federal testing guidelines.
“We’re realizing that not only can we test more, but some people have heard that message and have said, ‘Well, I really don’t need to be tested unless I’m really sick,” McCullers says.
Mildly symptomatic people are being encouraged to seek out providers that offer broader testing options such as Church Health, the Tri-State Community Health Center, and the UTHSC drive-up site at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Appointments are still required and testing priority is given to the most at-risk people, but an anticipated coming surge in cases means there’s new urgency to test even those with mild cough, fever and headache symptoms and keep them home.
“The early beginnings of [those symptoms] are oftentimes what’s overlooked, and individuals then continue to either go to work or be around others when they’re actually shedding the virus,” said Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter on Thursday.
A combination of area hospitals and community operations are testing between an estimated 500 and 1,000 people a day now. McCullers anticipates overall testing can more than double in the next few weeks.
With initial research showing that African Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, expanded testing in underserved communities will likely reveal more infections.
“Before when it was limited to testing in the hospital, there may have been a bias towards... the suburbs and that population,” McCullers says.
Click here for a list of facilities offering community testing.