The Hamilton County Health Department has conducted about 80,000 COVID-19 tests since the virus first appeared in the county six months ago, according to data provided by the department.
On Tuesday, leaders from the health department and other community groups provided tours of the Alstom testing site for members of the media to show the process from intake to the swab station to community support through the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.
Sabrina Novak, director of administrative services at the department, said the collaboration between the health department, the National Guard and community groups make the testing process possible. A COVID-19 test at the Alstom site takes around 10 minutes, and most people receive their results within a day, health department leaders said.
"What's remained constant is the dedication of health department employees to go above and beyond to provide what is needed during this pandemic," Novak said.
Since the beginning of August, COVID-19 testing in Hamilton County has been housed at the Alstom site on Riverfront Parkway. The health department previously moved its testing site from the emissions testing center to various Hamilton County school buildings to various local churches.
Trevor Wilson, who leads the form intake section at the Alstom testing facility, said the site is seeing an increase in the number of school- and employment-related visitors. The majority of people, around 70%, come for testing because they have been exposed to the virus, he said.
As the temperatures drop, increasing the prevalence of colds and the flu, more people are expected to be tested, health department leaders said. Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 — such as fever, cough and chills — mirror other common illnesses that increase during colder months.
In the past week, Hamilton County has averaged 6.34% positive for its COVID-19 tests. The current average is up from the beginning of the month, when the county averaged about 5% of its tests having a positive result.
Ginger Gibson, Chattanooga Area Food Bank director of agency and government relations, said her organization has helped 800 people in the past three weeks at the Alstom site.
People who are tested can receive two boxes of food — one with fresh produce and the other with dry goods — from the aid station while leaving the testing site. The boxes contain enough food to last a family several days.
Food bank workers at the site said there was a spike in need early in the pandemic when the shutdown began and unemployment jumped. The food bank is seeing a similar increase now as stimulus money directed to help local families is being used up and fewer resources are available.
The food bank is expanding its presence at the site, adding an additional day to distribute food Tuesday through Thursday each week from 8 to 11:30 a.m., Gibson said.
Cpl. Darrell Dolan with the Tennessee National Guard said around nine military service members are staffing the Hamilton County site as part of a statewide effort involving between 200 and 300 guard members.
Similarly, members of the Chattanooga Fire Department who are on light duty have aided at the testing site directing traffic or doing other jobs the health department needs, said Phil Hyman, fire chief.
Students from Chattanooga State Community College and Southern Adventist University are assisting at the site with processing paperwork before tests are sent to the lab.
On Tuesday, the health department announced 69 new cases, bringing the county total to 9,342 with 1,487 active cases. The department also reported the death of a white male between 71 and 80 years old, marking the 92nd death in the county from the virus.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.