Memphis city leader calls to mandate testing of high-risk workers

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — One city leader is calling for a mandate to test all healthcare and nursing home workers after WREG found some testing locations have not always been running at full capacity.

Many medical experts agree testing is the best solution right now to track COVID-19’s spread and when to reopen the economy.

“We can do these things; we just have to be smart about it,” said Memphis City Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren, who’s on the local COVID-19 task force.

Warren said we may need to start testing healthcare and nursing home workers, whether they’re sick or not.

“We need regular screening, and really it needs to be mandated,” Warren said.

Right now, federal guidelines say people without symptoms are labeled as non-priority, but other states are straying from that and now recommending testing people who work in high-risk facilities like hospitals and nursing homes.

“Right now we have nine nursing facilities or retirement communities that have an infection,” Warren said. “Pretty much every one of those that’s an employee who had the infection really wasn’t sick.”

Some hospitals have already started testing their staff.

“It’s not so a much a matter of exactly how you start; it’s that you start,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist at Baptist Hospital.

Baptist said all of its employees will soon receive swab-based PCR and antibody tests.

“We need to know if there is asymptomatic infection anywhere in the city, but especially in the healthcare facilities,” Threlkeld said.

Threlkeld said his team already did a small sample of employees and found about 2% were asymptomatic.

“You can take those cases, those people with those infections, and isolate them,” Threlkeld said. “Do the contact tracing.”

The health department said COVID-19 testing capacity at the community testing centers in the county is currently 3,700 per week, but WREG found out some locations are not always running at full capacity.

Reports show a location in Frayser had room to test 80 more people Saturday.

Many healthcare workers have said some of the sites have turned them away because they don’t have certain symptoms.

“We need a mandate from the state or locally where we go ahead and say, you need to be doing this routinely,” Warren said.

The health department provided the following statement to WREG about a possible mandate to test healthcare workers.

“The Health Officer is considering what measures need to be put in place to further reduce outbreaks in Shelby County, including among nursing home residents and staff members.”

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