The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-
COVID-19 hospitalizations are at an all-time high in Tennessee, test positivity rates are rising and the seven-day average for case counts surpassed records set in July.
Amid the surge in cases, Gov. Bill Lee held his first in-person news conference since coming out of a 14-day quarantine Wednesday to outline measures the state is taking in response to the spike. The measures include continuing county mayors’ ability to require masks in their counties, offering pop-up COVID-19 testing in rural counties and continuing to distribute rapid point-of-care tests.
“Cases are up, positivity rate’s up, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said, emphasizing that high case counts are because of increased transmission, not increased testing. “I don’t want you to fall into the narrative of thinking that’s just because we’re testing more.”
“Actually, our testing is pretty stable,” Piercey said. “We’ve always been a strong testing state, and we continue to remain that way. We do believe this is actually an increase in transmission.”
The Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) reported a positivity rate of 10.68% on Wednesday, after reporting positivity rates of more than 11% earlier this week. Positivity rates were in the mid-8% range earlier this month.
Lee commended county mayors who recently have reinstated mask mandates, noting about 62% of Tennessee’s population is covered by a mask mandate. Lee said he plans to extend the state of emergency to allow county mask mandates when it expires at the end of the month.
The TDOH also is organizing pop-up COVID-19 testing in six counties across the state from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. Testing will be available in Crockett, Fayette, Smith, Wilson, Grainger and Johnson counties and staffed by Tennessee National Guard medics and TDOH personnel. Participants should receive test results within 72 hours.
Piercey said the state has received several hundred thousand point-of-care rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government, manufactured by BinaxNOW. The state is distributing the BinaxNOW tests to long-term care facilities, historically Black colleges and universities, and corrections and mental health populations.
The TDOH also is prioritizing schools for BinaxNOW tests and is working with community partners to help facilitate test administration to alleviate the burden on teachers and administrators who already have many additional responsibilities amid the pandemic.