Shelby County could expand pilot COVID-19 testing program to students, teachers

Laura Testino

Shelby County Schools and some private schools are included in an asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program health officials are piloting, Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, said Tuesday.

In discussing reopening schools, health experts locally and nationally have long said that identifying cases among school campuses is key in safe reopening. Guidance has differed as to whether testing should prioritize educators, students or both, and districts nationally have released plans and, in some cases, returned to school, often without assuming the responsibility of providing COVID-19 testing.

Right now, the program is focused on schools more within the city of Memphis, Haushalter said, but that health officials are looking to expand county-wide "as much as we can."

Students return to their classrooms as signage guides proper use of mandated face masks for first and second graders in the hallway at Millington Elementary School on the first day of class Monday, August 10, 2020.

The group will evaluate the workflow of the program and the positivity rates before deciding to expand, she said.

The pilot program is utilizing pool testing, Haushalter said. The method "pools" together a handful of samples into one test tube.

Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease physician who has advised the local COVID-19 task force, explained further in a recent op-ed published by The Commercial Appeal.

"If the one test tube is negative, then all the pooled samples are resulted as negative and if positive, the original samples are run individually to determine the positive individual," Jain explained.

If the positivity rate, or the number of positive cases per test, is too high, Haushalter said Tuesday, then the program would need to move away from the pooled testing method to become effective. The pilot program should reveal whether it is the best strategy for testing students and educators.

COVID-19 testing within Shelby County, which was not able to meet the demand for much of July, is now operating with stricter guidance on who should be tested and has also expanded its capacity, meaning more available slots, Haushalter said Tuesday.

"As our capacity is increasing, then we can begin to broaden our list of prioritized populations to include teachers and other front line employees," she said.  

Part of the expansion has been for several community test sites to open testing for children.

A full list of those sites, and guidance on when to test a child, is available at

According to guidance from Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, if a child is showing "emergency warning signs such as trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake or bluish lips or face," parents should seek immediate care by calling 911 or the emergency department and notifying them that the child may have COVID-19. The Le Bonheur emergency department can be reached at 1-866-870-5570.

Children who have a cough or fever should not go to the pediatrician for testing unless instructed by the doctor to do so, according to Le Bonheur guidance.

Teacher testing underway

Over the last two weeks, SCS teachers unions, Memphis-Shelby County Education Association and the United Education Association of Shelby County have both participated in "Test to Protect," a pilot program in conjunction with Memphis and the Shelby County Health Department, union representatives said.

Free testing with UEA began Monday and will continue through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Davis Community Center (3371 Spottswood Ave., Memphis, 38111). Educators, principals and assistant principals must pre-register via this weblink:

"As we all prepare our classrooms for virtual opening, UEA must continue to take steps to prepare to keep you safe," UEA president Danette Stokes wrote in a statement.

SCS students return virtually on Aug. 31. Other schools in the county have already returned for the year.

Teachers who aren't part of the union and who may teach in the municipalities or at charter schools or private schools can also be tested, Stokes said Tuesday.

Where children can be tested

Below is the list of testing sites that can accept children, according to Le Bonheur. The children's hospital is not a public testing site, but does test children scheduled for procedures at the hospital.

Christ Community Health Services

Individuals can text “test2020” to 91999 to register. While registering please state that it is a child who will need testing.

Christ Community Health Services - Third
3362 S. 3rd St, 38109
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 2 – 4 p.m.
Tuesday: 9 – 11 a.m.

Christ Community Health Services – Hickory Hill
5366 Mendenhall Mall, 38115
Monday – Friday: 2 – 4 p.m.

Christ Community Health Services – Frayser
969 Frayser Blvd., 38127
Tuesday, Thursday – 3 – 4 p.m.

Christ Community Health Services – Raleigh
3481 Austin Peay Hwy, 38128
Tuesday, Thursday: 4 – 5 p.m.

Christ Community Health Services – Orange Mound
2569 Douglass Ave., 38114
Thursday, Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Christ Community Health Services – Broad
2861 Broad Ave., 38112
Wednesday: 3 – 4 p.m.

Church Health – Crosstown

Call (901) 272-0003.

1350 Concourse Ave., 38104
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Memphis Health Center – Crump

Call (901) 261-2042.

360 E.H. Crump Blvd, 38126
Monday, Wednesday: 5:30 – 7 p.m.

Tri State Community Health Center

Call (901) 572-1573 or text “Cov2019” to 91999.

Tri-State – Pinebrook
1725 Pinebrook, 38116
Friday: 9 a.m. – 1p.m.

Tri-State – Knight Arnold
4041 Knight Arnold Road, 38118
Wednesday, Friday: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.; 4 – 7 p.m.

University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Text “covid” to (901) 203-5526.

Cresthaven - 1st floor Parking Garage
1068 Cresthaven Dr. Memphis, TN 38119
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. *By Appointment only

Lamar Emissions Station
1720 RKS Commercial Cv. Memphis, TN 38114
Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. * By Appointment only

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