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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tennessee Governor Bill Lee held a press briefing at the UTC University Center, concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 3, 2020. Listening in the background is Dr. Tim Jones Cheif Medical Officer for the state.

Tennessee is among the top states in the country in per capita testing for the coronavirus so far with nearly 38,000 Tennesseans tested for the virus, Gov. Bill Lee said Friday.

He also said that Hamilton County has lagged behind other major cities and he is eager to boost the number of tests for the virus being done in Chattanooga.

So far, the number of reported coronavirus tests conducted in Hamilton County is less than half the per capita rate for the state as a whole, according to state reports.

(READ MORE: With 9 coronavirus deaths, Hamilton County warns of community spread)

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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Charity Painter, center, from The Partnership for Families, Children and Adults interprets for Governor Lee. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee held a press briefing at the UTC University Center, concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 3, 2020.

"We talked about that (lack of testing in Hamilton County) with the leadership of this community today to see how we can better coordinate the capacity," Lee told reporters after he and the state's unified coronavirus team met with local health and elected officials at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "We do have capacity for testing here. We just need to make sure that all of the medical providers and all of the hospitals and health departments are coordinating our efforts to ramp up that testing."

Lee acknowledged that there are not enough tests for everyone to be tested for the virus, "but we believe that most folks who need testing right now can have access to it," he said

Statewide, Lee announced Friday that 37,839 tests have been conducted for the coronavirus so far, or one test of every 179 residents in Tennessee. Of those tested so far, Lee said 3,067 persons, or 8.1% of those tested, have been positive for COVID-19.

So far, 37 Tennesseans have died from the virus.

(READ MORE: These are the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama COVID-19 cases and deaths by county)

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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tennessee Emergency Management Agency director Patrick Sheehan, left, speaks at the briefing. Listening is Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Tennessee Governor Bill Lee held a press briefing at the UTC University Center, concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 3, 2020.

As of Friday, the Hamilton County health department said there have been 889 tests for the coronavirus in Hamilton County, or one for every 407 persons. Davidson County, which has the highest number of persons with the virus in Tennessee, has conducted 8,060 tests, or 1 or every 86 persons. Knox County has conducted 1,363 tests, or one for every 339 persons, and Shelby County has conducted 7,157 tests, or one for every 131 persons.

Lee praised the efforts to establish more testing capability with the new lab set up at Baylor School in Chattanooga, which the governor said "has been incredibly well done" and is part of a growing number of additional testing capacity being added in Tennessee and across the country.

"There is a lot of testing ramping up and coming online for this community and there is a very concerted effort so I think you're going to see much better results around the state and in this community in the coming days," Lee said.

Hamilton County began drive thru testing for the virus on Wednesday at local vehicle emission testing facilities.

Lee said as a whole, Tennessee is one of the leading states for testing and, for its size, has conducted more tests than any state in the South.

Coronavirus testing in the Southeast

Only Louisiana where coronavirus deaths have spiked in the New Orleans area has conducted a higher rate of COVID-19 tests than Tennessee.

Tests per 1,000 residents

* Louisiana, 11.0

* Tennessee, 5.1

* Florida 3.7

* Arkansas, 3.0

* Kentucky, 2.9

* North Carolina, 2.7

* Georgia, 2.2

* Mississippi, 2.0

* Alabama, 1.8

* South Caorlina, 1.4

Source: The COVID Data Tracking Project,

"We started weeks ago in our unified command putting an emphasis on testing," Lee said. "We don't know enough about this pandemic, but we do know that the areas that have tested the most have had the best success in slowing the spread. I wanted to be a state that was doing everything we could to test and we are one of the top testing states in the nation and we test significantly more than any state in the South."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayor supports Gov. Lee executive order to stay home due to COVID-19, emphasizes enforcement)

The governor also said Tennessee so far has been able to meet the hospital demands for personal protection equipment, although he said a surge in COVID-19 cases and more testing of individuals may challenge those supplies.

"We have made shipments through TEMA to every one of our 95 counties and we are staying ahead of the curve, albeit only slightly ahead of the curve, on personal protection equipment," he said. "When we find a provider that needs such equipment, we work really hard to find it and to date we've been successful in doing that."

A Washington State University model forecasts that the surge in coronavirus cases is likely to peak in Tennessee around April 21, although Lee said other studies have shown different scenarios and time lines. But the governor said the worst of the epidemic is probably still ahead for the state.

"Tennessee is in the midst of a great storm and it is intense and it may intensify for the next few weeks," he said. "But make no mistake, there will be a clearing of the clouds someday."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tennessee Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones, left, speaks at the briefing. Listening is Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Tennessee Governor Bill Lee held a press briefing at the UTC University Center, concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 3, 2020.

 

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