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While public response has jumped, Knox County only has limited supply of COVID-19 testing material, director warns

The county can do 400 screenings Monday and Tuesday. It may to reevaluate after that, Dr. Buchanan said.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County testing for COVID-19 has quadrupled in recent days, suggesting the health department may have to adjust how many screenings it can continue doing this week.

The Knox County Health Department has a finite supply of testing material, Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said Monday afternoon. 

It can perform 400 screenings Monday and 400 Tuesday, she said.

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 After that, however, "We'll have to see about the rest of the week," she said.

Buchanan emphasized the Health Department is most interested in seeing people most at risk for getting the virus, such as the elderly and those with health impairments, as well as people who may have been exposed to someone who does have the virus.

Those should be the priority, she said.

"We appreciate your patience as we work to test as many people as we possibly can," Buchanan said.

She said urgent care centers and local medical offices also have screening if you can't use the county's drive-thru line off Baxter Avenue.

Symptoms that may indicate you have the virus include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, a headache or recent loss of taste or smell.

The county began Monday morning doing free drive-thru testing at the remote Public Works site off Baxter. Lines quickly began forming.

Credit: WBIR

The county -- and state health authorities -- want to increase testing to better determine who has been exposed to the virus. Some people may have it but are showing no symptoms.

Statewide, more than 7,000 people have tested positive. In Knox County, the number is 193 as of Monday morning.

Testing is "one tool we have to help us see how things are going and who's ill and where we might need to intervene as public health and isolate folks and do more contact tracing," Buchanan said.

But with public response suddenly going up sharply, the county Health Department may have to evaluate how it proceeds going forward, Buchanan said.

Credit: WBIR

The screening method that's being used involves taking a swab sample from someone in their vehicle and then sending it off to a lab for testing. Results can take several days to get back.

With more people getting tested, it could stretch out the time before results come back, Buchanan said. It could also result in the county learning of more positive local cases, boosting the county's case count.

Last week, Knox County went from being able to test 15-20 people a day to a maximum of 90. Monday's effort is the kickoff of trying to reach even more people in a drive-thru format.