Where can I get tested for the coronavirus, and what happens next?

Contributed Photo / Dr. Paul Hendricks

Q: How does COVID-19 testing work in Hamilton County?

A: In Hamilton County, residents can be tested for COVID-19 in a number of locations around the area. The Hamilton County Health Department offers free community testing on a daily basis (with holiday exceptions).

Health Department testing is not conducted at the main campus on Third Street or any of its outlying clinics, but rather at off-site locations that allow for drive-thru or walk-up testing. This is done to limit exposing potentially infectious people to staff or other clients, and to handle the volume of clients showing up for community testing. Other nonprofits or private providers may conduct off-site or outdoor testing for the same reason.

The Health Department provides free community testing at the Alstom Plant, 1119 Riverfront Parkway. We will be testing from 7-11 a.m. daily at least through the end of September.

Health Department community testing sites do not require an appointment. It is OK to come to a Health Department community testing site with or without symptoms. However, if you prefer to go to your private provider, it is strongly recommended that you call the provider first to ask how they handle COVID-19 testing, instead of showing up and walking into a waiting room while possibly infectious.

If you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, stay at home and do not go out, unless you are seeking medical care or going to a testing site. After being tested, you should remain isolated at home. If you were concerned enough to seek out COVID-19 testing, then you should assume you have the virus until proven otherwise by a negative test result. Remember that a negative result only reflects the day it was taken. You could have the virus and yet be too early in the disease to detect it, or you could get exposed the next day and get infected. You should also be aware that if you have previously had a case of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you not be tested again within three months.

When you are tested at a Health Department testing site, the Health Department will notify you of your result. If you have internet access, you will be given instructions on how to retrieve your results more rapidly online, directly from the laboratory. If you do not have internet access and you test negative, you will be called with the result. It is very important that you give accurate information to the staff at the testing site so that we can get your results to you, both phone number and address.

If you have a positive result, regardless of internet access, you will receive a phone call from the Health Department with instructions and information. This is a time-sensitive notification, so be on the lookout for unknown phone numbers because it may be the Health Department calling with your results. Regardless of your test result - positive, negative or inconclusive - you also will receive a follow-up notification letter for your records.

The Health Department does not perform antibody tests for the coronavirus, and it's important to remember that these are not recommended for diagnosing acute disease.

In addition to the Health Department, several nonprofit medical agencies, such as Cempa and Clinica Medicos, offer community testing, including pop-up test sites that operate for one or a few days in varying locations. There is currently testing also being done every weekend through August at several churches, which are listed on the Health Department website.

Some private providers and urgent-care centers perform testing in their offices. If you are tested by an agency or provider other than the Health Department, you will receive your result from that agency if it is negative. However, if you test positive, you will receive a phone call from the Health Department as described above and will be given instructions about precautions you need to take.

Whether you think you need to be tested or are awaiting results, and whether you are positive or negative for COVID-19, everyone should be wearing a mask as required by the Health Department's Directive No. 1 and practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease. You are also required to abide by all conditions of the Health Department if you are in isolation or quarantine.

A calendar listing of free Health Department testing sites and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) can be found on our website at Health.HamiltonTN.org. You can also call our COVID-19 Hotline at 423-209-8383.