Hundreds get tested for COVID-19 in Hamilton County's first free drive-thru site

Photo by Patrick Filbin / Tennessee health officials and National Guard members work at the Hamilton county COVID-19 testing site on Saturday afternoon.

Karla Chaucer was on a family trip in South Carolina back in January.

During the trip, Chaucer started to feel very sick. Over the next three and a half weeks, a number of other family members had flu-like symptoms and some tested positive for pneumonia.

Chaucer wasn't feeling any flu-like symptoms Saturday afternoon, but to make sure she and her husband Steve didn't have COVID-19, she was one of hundreds of people who lined up to get tested for the novel coronavirus at the Hamilton County emissions testing center on Riverfront Parkway.

Karla Chaucer was one of more than 60 people who took advantage of the site's walk-up test. Hundreds more used the drive-thru testing site from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

She said once confirmed cases in Hamilton County and the rest of Tennessee started to increase, she didn't feel comfortable going out and requesting a test without symptoms. Saturday's testing site proved to be a convenient alternative.

"We're mindful that this virus is highly contagious, so we try to wear masks whenever we're out in public," Steve Chaucer said.

Christina Siciliano was another to use the walk-up testing site.

"I wear a mask when I go out but I've still been going out and trying to work," Siciliano said. "I was worried about my mom and dad because I didn't want to be asymptomatic and spread it. I'm a pretty healthy person, but healthy people get it, too."

More than 700 people made appointments for testing in Hamilton County on Saturday and Sunday. However, the health department said it wouldn't be turning anyone away.

With the county's lab able to test up to 550 swabs per day, results are expected to be returned within a couple of days of the sample being collected. Results are expected within 72 hours of testing.

photo Photo by Patrick Filbin / Tennessee health officials and National Guard members work at the Hamilton county COVID-19 testing site on Saturday afternoon.

On Friday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger announced that he will allow restaurants and stores to reopen in his jurisdiction, following the lead of Gov. Bill Lee.

Coppinger said at the news conference that this abundant new testing, provided in partnership with the National Guard, along with contact tracing, help make him confident in reopening businesses, despite some pushback and a differing opinion from Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

Berke has said he will not reopen businesses at an "arbitrary" date and is "distraught" that the surrounding area will open sooner.

The Chaucers said they wish Berke would follow the lead of Coppinger and Lee and start to open the city back up.

"It shouldn't be an overnight thing," Steve Chaucer said. "But this is taking an incredible economic toll."

Christina Siciliano and her mom, Paula, are on the more cautious side of the issue.

"It's hurting the economy so bad, but it's going to hurt it a lot worse if we all go jumping around," Paula said.

There have been a number of red flags around the state recently, and Christina Siciliano said she would like to see more promising numbers before the state opens up.

"I don't think Tennessee has reached its peak," she said. "I can't wait for it to go back to normal, but I think we need more green flags."

The Tennessee Department of Health will continue to offer similar testing in the coming weeks.

For more information on how and where to get tested, visit assessment-sites.html or call 833-556-2476 or 877-857-2945.

Contact Patrick Filbin at or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.