Hamilton County cases rise, testing still limited


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County is on the rise. The health department was alerted to three more cases — bringing the total number up to eight.

The Hamilton County Health Department does not have detailed information on the three new positive-test patients. The department says they’re actively investigating each case.

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As of right now, Hamilton County has no testing sites open to the public. One drive-thru site is listed on the state’s health department website. That’s at Erlanger’s UT Family Practice in downtown Chattanooga. Despite being initially listed as testing Erlanger patients and staff, Erlanger has since changed that site to service only staff.

In a joint statement with the area’s three hospitals, the Medical Society says healthcare workers are receiving testing priority. That’s because they are on the front lines of the virus and need to ensure they’re not spreading it to at risk patients or other medical professionals.

The statement says in part:

“Federal officials have also stressed the importance of healthcare workers receiving priority in being tested because they are on the frontlines of patient care during this pandemic. It is important for the public to know that if a large number of health care workers in any community is exposed to a virus — forcing them to leave their jobs — it would be impossible for hospitals to adequately care for all the vulnerable patients they treat, many of whom have life-threatening illnesses to injuries.

“Currently, test supplies are extremely low in the region and therefore testing is only available to individuals with specific symptoms and only after ruling out other conditions during a medical screening, as well as individuals who within 14 days of symptom onset had close contact with a suspect or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, or who have a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of their symptom onset.”

As the statement said, another problem is the availability of supplies. The Hamilton County Health Department said there is a nationwide need for items to administer and conduct the tests. Health Administrator Becky Barnes ensures the public the department has a plan to expedite the process.

“What we’re planning to do is get all the logistics, get the place, get the people assigned, and get everything ready to go, and then as soon as we have the supply problems solved, we’ll be ready to go,” Barnes said.

Barnes says the supply situation has been very sporadic. That’s the reason why some major Tennessee counties have testing sites already open, while others don’t.

The Health Department has activated the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) to ensure essential services remain available to the public. However, this means other services have been suspended. A full list of effected services is below:

Essential services remaining open:

  • Vital Records (Permits and Birth and Death Certificates)
  • Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing and Treatment
  • Tuberculosis Control Activities
  • Required Immunizations and Post Exposure Tetanus
  • WIC – Now Provided via Phone Calls
  • Family Planning Services – Limited Services
  • Homeless Health Care Center – Primary Care and Sick Care
  • Emergency Dental Care
  • Environmental Services – Foodborne Outbreak Response and Rabies Testing
  • Breastfeeding Support
  • Pediatric Lead Testing of Suspected Elevations

Nonessential services suspended:

  • Home Visits/Community Outreach
  • Community meetings
  • Routine Restaurant Inspections
  • Preventative Denal Services
  • Well Child Physical Exams
  • Car Seat Program

The Health Department says “clients currently scheduled for a suspended service will be contacted for rescheduling. Anyone with questions about their existing appointments or other Health Department services is urged to call that service directly using the clinic/department phone number on the department’s website.”

Satellite campuses in Ooltewah, Sequoyah, Birchwood and the Homeless Healthcare Center will remain open with limited services.

Other protective measure at the Health Department include:

  • Upon arrival, visitors and staff will have their temperature taken.
  • To maintain social distancing, clients are asked to come alone or with one other person for support. In the case of children, please limit to one parent.