Medical workers from local hospitals and universities started collecting specimens outside Meharry Medical Center on March 31. The swabs are put in a tube with a solution and sent to LabCorps, a private lab. Because of the backlog, it could take a week to get results.

NASHVILLE, TN – Three community testing centers are open in Nashville; one at Nissan stadium, parking lot N, one at Meharry Medical College at 918 21st St. N. and one at the old K-Mart store at 2491 Murfreesboro Pike in Antioch. They are open 9-3, M, W, F.

But you can’t just run on down there, get in line, and get tested. The protocol has not changed. You have to be sick or been in contact with someone who has the disease to get a test.

Health officials are restricting testing to the vulnerable, to people with symptoms, and monitoring medical workers and first responders, because we simply can’t test everybody like we would be doing if we were better prepared for the pandemic. (See Coronavirus cases)

To get screened you can call the COVID-19 Hotline at 615-862-7777. If you just show up you will be sent home unless you have a fever, difficulty breathing, and a dry cough. If you do get tested, you will be sent home anyway to self-quarantine yourself. You’ll have to wait a few days at least to find out if the test was positive, negative, or inconclusive. A vaccine is months away and effective treatments don’t yet exist. That’s the bad news. Here’s more:

An infectious disease expert says the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee is not slowing down. New cases are increasing every day.

“Data actually shows despite all the interventions to date, and urging for people to stay apart, Covid-19 is accelerating its reach in Tennessee,” said Dr. David Aronoff, the director of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

On March 20, Aronoff and some 2000 Tennessee physicians sent a letter to Governor Lee urging him to take bold steps to match what China and South Korea did to mitigate the spread of the virus by prohibiting travel and closing non-essential industries and businesses.

Doctors told Lee the infection rate is much worse with COVID-19 than the regular flu; it incubates up to 14 days, versus 1-4 days with the flu. And they noted  “apparently well individuals already infected will infect numerous people without knowing it”.

Aronoff said the one effective tactic that will stop the spread of the virus is an effective physical separation of a Stay at Home order. The doctors urged Lee to prevent a “disastrous” surge in cases by issuing a shelter in place order.

On March 23, Mayor John Cooper issued a two-week Stay Safe at Home order for Davidson County. On March 30, Governor Lee issued Executive Order #22, a statewide Safer at Home order that lasts until April 15. He has released a number of bulletins and orders which have incrementally put restrictions on people and businesses but they may have come too late or not do enough to stop the virus. We will know pretty soon.

There is not enough good data from widespread testing results to accurately predict whether the virus will peak in 3-4 weeks or later. On April 1, the virus showed no signs of slowing down. Until it does, things will not get better. Two thousand doctors have urged Governor Lee to take bolder steps to stop the spread by enforcing stricter rules on peoples’ freedom of movement.

Using Tennessee Department of Health data Dr. J. Matt Luther, a Vanderbilt Medical Center researcher, predicted the coronavirus will peak on April 26. At that time available hospital beds in Tennessee will be less than 8,000, available ICU beds will be 629, and there will be a need for 2,318 more ventilators.

Random sampling of a population for infection is crucial to effective containment and that is not being done in Tennessee yet. Information about who is infected and where they are located helps predict where infections will peak and when hospitals could be overwhelmed with a sudden spike in serious cases. Without good data, officials are just guessing where this virus is going or how it will end.

Testing with nasal swabs finds out who is infected. That is a good start but not enough. A negative result doesn’t mean you won’t be infected later. So getting tested more than once is something we should expect as part of a successful containment strategy. Researchers at Mt. Sinai in New York developed a blood test for people who have recovered or are immune to COVID-19 to help develop a vaccine. But that is at least a year away.

Rep. Mike Stewart says Governor Lee and his Covid-19 task force aren’t doing enough and don’t have the right answers to stop the virus. They’re putting on brave faces but just whistling in the dark hoping to avoid a catastrophe.

Rep. Mike Stewart holds up N95 masks that cost pennies but save lives. Tennessee healthcare workers are running out of them.

“We should would ramp up testing dramatically so that we can test people who have been exposed to carriers and when they test positive put them in appropriate quarantine so they don’t infect their family and friends,” said Stewart. Shelter at home orders mean that some people are quarantined in their home with infectious family members. That strategy may fail to stop the virus from spreading.

Carriers of the virus who displayed no symptoms drove the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Only widespread testing gave Chinese officials a clear picture of how many people were infected and where the epidemic was spreading. They were able to quarantine large numbers of their citizens for six weeks and that halted the epidemic there. Half measures did not do it.

Tennessee has ten times the number of new cases it had just two weeks ago and contrary to everyone’s best hopes, we are not flattening the curve. It is peaking quickly.

Stewart said Tennessee has plenty of money in the rainy day fund and the legislature authorized $100 million for an immediate response to the epidemic. He said state officials are not winning the fight against the disease and somebody needs to really take charge.

“The reason is because they don’t have a comprehensive plan that makes any sense. I keep asking when are we going to understand what your plan is, what the benchmarks are, so we can see if they are achieved,” Stewart said.

As of April 1, a total of 32,452 Covid-19 tests have been given in Tennessee; 2,683 were positive; 200 people are hospitalized, and 24 people have died. Davidson County has 423 confirmed cases.