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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Administrator of Health Services Becky Barnes speaks during a press conference in Golley Auditorium at the Hamilton County Health Department on Monday, March 16, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was announced at the Press conference that the Hamilton County Office of Emergency Management will partially activate their Emergency Operations Center located on Aminicola Highway.

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The number of people quarantined in Hamilton County soared over the weekend, following the area's first confirmed case of COVID-19, but test results remain scarce.

At a news briefing late Monday, county representatives said that, while the number of confirmed cases remains at just one for the county, more than two dozen additional people have been put on "restricted movement" since the case was confirmed on Friday.

In the first three days after the head priest at a prominent Chattanooga church was identified as the first local case and the number of people quarantined leapt from three to 29, test results are still only trickling in with just 12 people tested in the county, according to the health department.

While numbers lag several days, with preliminary test results taking three to five days to be returned, the small sample of locals being tested despite the disease's assumed two-week incubation period reflects a trend of many people being left untested despite exposure.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Hamilton County Emergency Services Deputy Director John Miller speaks during a press conference in Golley Auditorium at the Hamilton County Health Department on Monday, March 16, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was announced at the Press conference that the Hamilton County Office of Emergency Management will partially activate their Emergency Operations Center located on Aminicola Highway.

"People on restricted movement currently are people who had some kind of potential exposure," Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes said. "We wouldn't recommend or move to get them tested unless they have symptoms. These are just people in quarantine. They are not currently ill."

This reflects a far less aggressive testing strategy in the United States and locally compared to other nations such as South Korea and China, which have mass-tested people in public to combat the spread of the pandemic.

While testing moves slowly, the county is taking other measures to encourage social distancing, including paring county services down to the minimum amount of in-person interactions without "impacting citizens," Barnes said.

Barnes also said many retired health care professionals were helping the roughly 150 employees of the health department working to prevent the spread of the virus.

After the briefing, Hamilton County Emergency Management Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell said that, in light of a change in directive from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any and all gatherings of 10 or more people were suspended until further notice.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Hamilton County Emergency Services Public Information Officer Amy Maxwell listens to a question during a press conference in Golley Auditorium at the Hamilton County Health Department on Monday, March 16, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was announced at the Press conference that the Hamilton County Office of Emergency Management will partially activate their Emergency Operations Center located on Aminicola Highway.

"We urge event organizers, as well as all of our residents, to follow these procedures," Maxwell wrote. "Gatherings with less than 10 participants are currently allowed, but we advise that meetings and small gatherings only be held if absolutely necessary. In such an event, please take proper measures to ensure the safety of all attendees."

According to Maxwell, the county's rules apply to conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings and other types of assemblies.

This comes hours after Hamilton County Schools announced extended closures through April 13, amid other school, government and event closures over the past week.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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