Nashville Officials Say They Aren’t Testing Asymptomatic People for COVID-19

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Nashville officials will not test most people who might have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, even though one new report suggests they should.

Officials with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said in that report that testing asymptomatic people is crucial, regardless.

The Tennessee Star asked city officials why they are not taking on more robust testing on asymptomatic people.

“There are certain groups of asymptomatic individuals in Nashville, particularly those who have had direct contact with known clusters of confirmed COVID-19 cases, that are receiving testing. Otherwise, testing every asymptomatic individual in Davidson County would not be the most beneficial use of limited resources. We want to be sure that we’re able to test as many symptomatic residents as possible at this time,” said Metro Nashville spokesman Chris Song, in an email Tuesday.

“We are also broadening our list of indications for assessment and testing every day to ensure that residents know when they may have symptoms of COVID-19. Just this week, we added loss of smell and diarrhea to the list of COVID-19 symptoms.”

Metro Public Health Department spokesman Brian Todd told The Star Tuesday that city officials would test asymptomatic people who live with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

A panel of experts writing for AEI, in a recent report recommended increased diagnostic testing capacity for rapid sharing of results — including testing asymptomatic people.

“Same-day, point-of-care diagnostic testing (widely available in outpatient settings) is crucial for identifying cases, including those with asymptomatic and mild infections,” said researchers Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis, and Crystal Watson.

AEI officials released the report, titled National Coronavirus Response: A Road to Reopening, on March 28.

According to the report, researchers suggested moving from community-wide interventions that focus on large populations to case-based interventions that target and isolate individual people who are infected. Capacity, they added, should be sufficient to test the following:

• Hospitalized patients — researchers said rapid diagnostics are needed for this population

• Health care workers and workers in essential roles, or those in community-facing roles in health and public safety

• Close contacts of confirmed cases

• Outpatients with symptoms. They said this is best accomplished with point-of-care diagnostics in doctors’ offices with guidelines that encourage widespread screening and mandated coverage for testing.

“We estimate that a national capacity of at least 750,000 tests per week would be sufficient to move to case-based interventions when paired with sufficient capacity in supportive public-health infrastructure (e.g., contact tracing),” the researchers said.

“In conjunction with more widespread testing, we need to invest in new tools to make it efficient for providers to communicate test results and make data easily accessible to public-health officials working to contain future outbreaks.”

As The Nashville Business Journal reported Tuesday, Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he’s planning to relax business restrictions he imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19.

“Beyond that, Cooper said Nashville needs to ensure there are sufficient levels of PPE, or personal protective equipment. Reopening the economy also will require COVID-19 caseloads flattening and more thorough work identifying and isolating people who may have come in contact with someone who has coronavirus,” the website reported.

“Cooper said he expects to extend Nashville’s ‘Safer at Home’ order, which urges residents to stay home and closes certain businesses deemed ‘non-essential,’ through April 30. The order is currently set to expire April 24.”

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]








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