Sullivan shifts testing focus to vulnerable population

J. H. Osborne • Apr 30, 2020 at 9:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Regional Health Department won’t be offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing next week, Gary Mayes, the agency’s director, said Thursday afternoon. But members of the public who want a test can still call 279-2777 for an appointment to be tested through the department, Mayes said.

The department’s focus is now shifting to outreach to the “vulnerable population,” Mayes said, by offering to provide test kits and lab costs to nursing home and assisted living facilities across the county.

“We are working with our nursing homes and assisted living facilities over the next few days to coordinate testing of staff and patients,” Mayes said. “However, we will continue to make appointments if folks want to call 279-2777 and arrange for a test, we’ll be more than glad to accommodate them. We don’t have any short-term plans for drive-thru testing. They’ve been hugely successful and we’ve gotten good feedback from our citizens. But right now we want to focus on our vulnerable population and work with the nursing homes and assisted living facilities. That’s not to say we won’t do drive-thru testing again. But this is where we’re going to focus our resources right now.”

Mayes said the health department already has been working with the facilities.

“We want to let them know we’ll assist them if their staff members want to test their patients and residents,” Mayes said. “Or if they want us to. But the health department will be providing the test kits and paying the lab costs.”

Earlier on Thursday, Dr. Stephen May, medical director for the health department, issued his third public health order since the pandemic began. Order No. 3 basically states Sullivan County will mirror guidelines issued by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

Lee appeared with President Donald J. Trump on Thursday afternoon at the White House, where the president announced the federal government’s initiative to focus on protecting the elderly as part of its COVID-19 response.

Trump announced he would sign a proclamation designating May as “Older Americans Month” to honor the contributions made to the nation by its senior citizens, and he pledged steps are underway to “safeguard nursing homes and our most vulnerable citizens.”

Trump thanked Lee and praised Lee’s handling of Tennessee’s response at the state level, saying it is a “great job you’re doing.”

Lee vowed Tennessee will provide testing to each of the 700 long-term facilities across the Volunteer State.

Trump said the “greatest risk” from the pandemic is to “older Americans” and in response 35,000 National Guard troops have been made available to deliver crucial supplies to nursing homes and assist with disinfecting and testing efforts.



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