Lee to require COVID-19 testing at long-term care facilities

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks about protecting seniors, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Lee's administration announced Friday that long-term care facilities will soon be required to test all of their residents and staff for COVID-19 after initially just urging nursing homes to do so.

According to Lee's office, the Healthcare Facilities Board unanimously approved new rules from the Department of Health that require testing of all long-term care facilities to be completed by June 30.

After June, nursing homes must conduct testing on staff at least once a week. Staff members will be exempted if they have a positive FDA-approved COVID-19 antibody test.

Earlier this month, Lee requested that all of the state's approximately 700 nursing homes conduct coronavirus testing by May 31. By Friday, 60% of those facilities had done so, while another 20% were awaiting various tools to complete the testing. Those materials - such as tests and protective equipment - were expected to be delivered within a week.

The remaining 20% require staffing assistance, which Lee's office says will be provided by the National Guard.

"To date, nearly 40 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Tennessee have been long-term care residents," states a report compiled by Lee's office detailing the nursing home testing.

As of Friday, there have been a total of 22,085 confirmed cases and 360 deaths in the state related to the virus.

Facilities that fail to follow the new rules could have their license revoked or suspended, or be fined.

In other virus news, Tennessee officials said they have finalized plans to set up an alternate care site for COVID-19 at Metro Nashville General Hospital.

In a statement Friday, Gov. Bill Lee's office said the site will be a "hospital within a hospital model," designed to activate and deactivate quickly if needed.

State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said she hopes the facility won't need to be activated, but it will remain on standby.

The site includes two hospital floors, totaling almost 26,300 square feet (2,443 square meters) and provides 67 extra individual bed spaces to treat COVID-19 patients if the region begins to exceed existing hospital capacity.