Chattanoga-area COVID-19 testing options shrinking even as positive rates remain high

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Greg Roberts takes a nasal swab for a COVID-19 test at a temporary community testing site set up by Athena Esoterix on Signal Mountain Road on Thursday, January 6, 2022.

Some community providers are scaling back COVID-19 testing and vaccination services - at least for now - as the omicron surge looks to be subsiding.

Athena Esoterix has closed its walk-up community testing site on Signal Mountain Road, which staff opened to the public in early January in an attempt to accommodate the region's high demand for COVID-19 testing.

Elizabeth Forrester, co-founder and technical director of Athena Esoterix, said the group is still offering at-home kits for pickup at Hixson Pharmacy, Brainerd Pharmacy, Signal Mountain Pharmacy, Fairyland Pharmacy or directly at the lab's facility in the Aquarium Conservation Institute Building at 175 Baylor School Road.

While people across the region are seeking fewer tests these days, demand for at-home kits has remained steady, and many people are still testing positive, she said.

"Demand for testing has gone down sharply, but the number of positives isn't correlating. We're running fewer samples, but the positivity is still relatively high," Forrester said.

(READ MORE: Tennessee ends most COVID-19 contact tracing)

Clinica Medicos, which provided community COVID-19 testing throughout much of the pandemic, has shifted away from testing and vaccinating the public to established patients only.

Dr. Kelly Rodney Arnold, medical director of Clinica Medicos, said in an emailed statement the equipment previously used for testing and vaccinations was moved to the main clinic at 1300 E. 23rd St.

"At this time, we are integrating our COVID-19 response, including PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing and vaccinations, into our regular clinical practice," Arnold said. "We know that dealing with COVID-19 cannot exist in a silo, especially when triaging is necessary to provide life-saving oral antiviral medications. Isolated testing without clinical integration is not an acceptable standard for the care we intend to provide given the therapeutic options."

The decision to end communitywide testing and vaccinations was also necessary so renovations could begin at the property along 23rd Street, where those services were provided, she said.

"As we approach the 24th month of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hamilton County, the physicians, nurses and administrative staff of Clinica Medicos remain more committed than ever to serving our community, particularly those families who are already the most vulnerable," Arnold said.

The Hamilton County Health Department closed its drive-thru community COVID-19 vaccination site at the Tennessee Riverpark last week, moving those services to its East Third Street location starting Tuesday.

Pfizer primary series for ages 5 and up and boosters for ages 12 and up, as well as Moderna boosters for ages 18 and up, will now be given on a walk-in basis Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the clinic on the second floor of the west wing of the building.

Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Sabrina Novak said in a news release Friday the move "allows us to be able to consolidate all of our vaccine efforts into one building so that individuals of all age groups can come to one location."

The health department continues to distribute at-home test kits when available, but as of Monday afternoon, the agency's website indicated it was out of stock.

LifeSpring Community Health is among the few area providers that continues to offer free community COVID-19 testing, which is available Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. upstairs at the clinic on 1042 E. Third St.

LifeSpring also continues to offer Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including the primary series and booster doses, in partnership with the city at various times and locations across Chattanooga several days each week. The full vaccine event and testing schedule is listed on LifeSpring's website.

Forrester, the Athena Esoterix co-founder, said COVID-19 testing remains important even during periods when the disease is less prevalent.

"We need surveillance in all of these areas so we can have a broad view of what's happening," she said, pointing to a push by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have private labs test more positive samples for new viral variants.

Athena Esoterix is the only lab in the region capable of conducting genetic sequencing, the laboratory technique used to detect coronavirus variants.

"It is frustrating that there isn't a community testing site that's always operational," Forrester said. "We can just sequence the positives that we have, but we only see a small sliver of what's coming through this area. So for it to be meaningful, we need access to more positive samples."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.