Health experts: COVID-19 cases rise, demand for testing skyrockets

Local Coronavirus Coverage

TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise not only across the region, but the country, health experts report the amount of people seeking testing has skyrocketed.

The region’s largest hospital system reported this week it is testing, on average, roughly 2,000 people a day.

“That’s nearly quadruple our previous high of 600 people a day, which was in last December 2020,” said Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health Chief Physician Executive. “We encourage everyone to get tested. You may think that you have allergy symptoms or mild cold or you may have been exposed, but please consider getting tested have a very low threshold for getting tested at this point.”

Dr. Runnels was not the only health expert to urge those with symptoms to get tested. The same held true for Sullivan County Regional Health Department’s Medical Director Dr. Stephen May.

“The first thing is if you develop any symptoms at all, the most important thing is that you isolate first, get isolated and prevent infection to other individuals,” May said. “Then you’ve got time to figure out ‘where is the best place for me to go get testing?’ and I will certainly do some calling ahead at wherever place you choose to go ahead and see where you want to be evaluated in the process of going to get tested.”

He said that it is important that people wear their masks, maintain distance, keep their hands washed and prevent the infection from being transmitted to another place.

“So we’re back to the basics of infection control,” May said. “Wear your mask. Keep your distance. If you’re ill, by all means, stay at home, and then you have time then to sort out whether you may need to go ahead and get a test.”

One Bristol woman who recently tested positive for COVID-19 said that she did call ahead.

Rebecca Commerton told News Channel 11 she was exposed to COVID-19 on Aug. 10 by her great uncle, whom she took to Urgent Care in Bristol to get tested. After he tested positive, she made an appointment as soon as she could and tested negative. She was told at the Urgent Care where she received her test that if she started feeling bad, she would have to be tested again. She immediately went back online and tried to book another appointment.

“They said ‘but you need to watch for symptoms, you need to retest.’ So I said ‘okay I’ll make it, I’ll schedule an appointment for later on in the week and I’ll retest.’ Well as the week went on there, it said there was no testing available at this time, there was no future, future test dates available,” Commerton said.

She purchased a two-pack of over-the-counter rapid tests from Walgreens for $23.99.

“Because I needed to know, do I need to send my husband to work, do I need to send my daughter to school? This all factors in,” Commerton said.

She tested negative on Friday. Then, she said she started feeling sick over the weekend.

“Well, then I started feeling sick over the weekend after testing negative with HomeKit. Then I took another home test on Sunday night. It tested positive. So then I reached out on Ballad’s website, and it kept saying that there were no appointments available, that I can make an appointment at Urgent Care,” Commerton said.

She then made an appointment for both herself and her husband at her local Urgent Care, only to be denied the appointment the following morning.

“So I then went back online, and the closest testing facility that I could find to us that could get us in on Monday was Elizabethton,” Commerton said. “So loaded him up, loaded my daughter, we all got a car and we drove over til this Monday morning and got tested, and it took them about eight hours to call us with our results is how backed up they said they were. They had 30-some tests, already in front of us. We got there at 11:30, Monday morning.”

Commerton said the anxiety of waiting for her test results for eight hours was overwhelming.

“Because in my mind, all I just kept thinking was, ‘okay, where all have we been, what all have we done, and who’ve we been around, who do I need to call, who all are affected?'” she said. “That’s all running through your head, and my husband’s like ‘this waiting game, it’s killing me.’

“My husband is vaccinated. I am not. I work from home, he works out in the community, so I didn’t feel like it was a pressing need for me. Hindsight is 20:20. But at this point, vaccinated or not, people are still dying.”

Commerton said Ballad Health’s nurse connect line (833-822-5523) to schedule an appointment was so overloaded that on one of her attempts, she spent 45 minutes on the line waiting to book an appointment. She was turned away at her local Urgent Care because she said the nurse on call did not want her to infect others in the waiting room, and she struggled to find a nearby appointment online.

“Well, we are offering increased testing, at both our Kingsport and Blountville sites,” Dr. May told News Channel 11.

The Sullivan County Regional Health Department is offering drive-thru testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“We’ve had a very stiff demand for that type of testing, so some lines have gathered up on us, and I encourage everyone to remember there’s multiple sites now to get testing,” May said. “There is testing in many pharmacies, there’s testing in all Urgent Cares, a lot of primary care physicians now have the testing available. So, this testing is now no longer unique to the health department, it is integrated into the healthcare system now.”

Those who are symptomatic are urged to immediately isolate themselves from others.

“Anyone with a fever, feeling bad. The most common other symptoms we see are fatigue, malaise, sore throat now and a lot of runny noses, or what they think is a sinus infection is turning out to be COVID,” May said. “So, any of those respiratory type symptoms needs to consider evaluation for getting a COVID test, and in the meantime, most importantly, place themselves into isolation. Do not send them to school until you have it figured out, as to whether they truly have COVID or not.”

Health experts urge that the vaccine is the only way to the end of this pandemic.

“All major diseases that have been conquered had been conquered through vaccines, so please get your vaccine, and then let’s protect our little ones,” May said.

If you wish to get tested for COVID-19, here are some resources:

  • Ballad Health – call 833-822-5523
  • Sullivan County Health Department – call 423-279-2777
  • Northeast Regional Health Office – call 423-979-4689

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