Rapid Turnaround COVID-19 Testing Comes to Memphis

Mar 27, 2020



Around 150 people can be tested each day at UTHSC's drive-up tent at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Credit The University of Tennessee Health Science Center

For weeks, healthcare professionals have lacked the ability to rapidly test for COVID-19, but now the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s own testing lab is up and running—with capacity to process around 1,000 tests per day.

“This is really a game changer for Memphis,” says Dr. Scott Strome, dean of the College of Medicine at UTHSC. “Before what was happening is, it was taking five days— literally—to get test results.”

The university’s same day or 24-hour turnaround for results helps sick people get faster treatment and health department workers quickly quarantine individuals who may have been in contact with that patient.

Free testing at the university’s drive-up site at the Midsouth Fairgrounds no longer requires a doctor's recommendation, but appointments are still only for those with coronavirus symptoms such as fever and cough.

Around 150 people can be tested per day with appointments secured via text. It takes about six minutes for the volunteer medical students to take a nasal swab.

The university is also already planning for the next phase of its COVID-19 pandemic response.

“Ultimately, we’re going to want to test for antibodies to see who’s developed immunity because those people are safe to go back into the workforce,” says Strome.

More broad scale testing is still needed, Strome adds, potentially through a massive rollout of at-home testing kits, though the FDA has not approved any models for safe use yet.

“If you knew in Memphis, exactly which people were sick right now... including those who are at risk based on quarantines, everybody else could go back to work,” he says. “The only way you can do that is to literally test the entire population, and that’s not feasible right now.”