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Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey speaks during March news conference concerning the state's response to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee is getting its first 133,000 of a projected 2 million rapid point-of-care coronavirus test kits, capable of producing results in the field within 13 to 15 minutes, officials say.

Gov. Bill Lee told reporters Tuesday that he intends to deploy the tests in his administration's continued push to reopen public K-12 schools across the state.

He added that "there'll also be opportunity for these to be used in the continued strong approach we have had in protecting the elderly in nursing homes and long-term care facilities."

The test kits are expected to begin arriving in Tennessee this week and continue into next week with additional shipments through the end of this year.

"These are very low-cost tests, about $5 to $6 apiece," state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said. "Compare that to a traditional swab, which is $100 apiece."

The health commissioner said that while some rapid, mobile test kits have been on the market for months, those tests have to go back to a lab for processing.

"The differentiator here is that these are done in the field. They don't require any equipment. They don't require any machinery. They can be done just with trained personnel. And it's not major training, it's just training on how to run the tests."

Piercey said the kit comes with a card and a swab. The swab is inserted in the front portion of the nostril, as opposed to the long naspharyngeal swabs which reach far back into the nasal cavity. The shorter swab is "going to be well tolerated," Piercey predicted.

Once the specimen is collected, it's placed in the card, triggering a chemical reaction.

"It becomes a result much like a home pregnancy test," Piercey explained. "One line or two lines will tell you a positive or a negative."

Piercey noted the federal Food and Drug Administration says the test improves diagnoses of COVID-19 for symptomatic people. The sensitivity rate is 97%.

"That means if you have symptoms and you get this test, you're 97% likely to have a true positive" result, the physician said. "That's higher than anything else that's on the market right now."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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