NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Widespread COVID-19 testing is coming soon to all 700-plus nursing home or long-term care facilities across the state, officials announced Wednesday.

During the April 29 COVID-19 press briefing, Gov. Bill Lee said in an effort to protect the more vulnerable populations in Tennessee, namely the elderly, the state is requiring COVID-19 testing at all long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

“Every Tennessean should keep watch on how they are feeling and embrace the motto, ‘When in doubt, get a test,’ but we’re also and we’re especially cognizant of our vulnerable populations; especially and including the elderly,” Lee said Tuesday. “So, today, we’re announcing that in the next several weeks, the Unified Command Group is embarking on widespread testing of all long-term care facilities in Tennessee.”

There are more than 700 of these licensed facilities in the state, with more than 70,000 residents.

The decision comes after dozens of nursing home residents have tested positive for COVID-19; with several COVID-19 related deaths reported from facilities in Gallatin and Athens.

RELATED: 2 residents have died, 58 tested positive for COVID-19 at Life Care Center of Athens

As for keeping up with the data of residents or staff at the facilities that have been infected, the state keeps a close eye. Currently, the state releases the affected nursing home facilities in a weekly update on Fridays.

RELATED: New data released on long-term care facilities impacted by COVID-19 in TN

Lee also went on to say to help these facilities positively identify the virus within patients and staff, the state is partnering with National Healthcare Corporation (NHC) to test its residents in the initial push of widespread testing at long-term care facilities.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD clarified that NHC’s leaders volunteered its Tennessee facilities, 38 total, to be part of the first wave of mass testing.

“We applaud the quick and proactive response of the NHC facilities and encourage all other long-term care providers to follow suit in this very important step to protect our most vulnerable Tennesseans,” Piercey said.

Piercey also said the state health department will require all Tennessee long-term care facilities to test residents and staff and report positive cases to THD. The state will also provide any and all testing equipment needed. She later said during Wednesday’s briefing the state had also spoken with the association that represents the long-term care facility industry, but had not yet spoken with the all of the franchise providers or independent providers.

The franchise that runs Life Care Center of Athens released a statement Wednesday regarding the cluster of positive COVID-19 cases and reported deaths:

At Life Care Center of Athens, residents are – and have always been – our highest priority.
We are working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care
Administration and the local health department to ensure we are taking the appropriate steps at
this time. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, we have been
following the latest guidelines, from both state and federal authorities, including the CDC.
Our primary concern is for the health and safety of our residents, nursing staff and other care
providers. They are on the front line of this unprecedented outbreak. Our staff is trained in proper
use of PPEs and are following all relevant guidelines in infection control. They are putting in
heroic efforts to ensure that our patients are receiving the best care.
We’ll continue to provide regular updates to state and local officials, as well as to family
members who are concerned about the health and safety of their loved ones. Here are the latest
details from our facility:
– On April 27, we announced results from 100% resident testing:
-58 residents tested positive for COVID-19 (This includes the original four cases
that were transferred to the hospital.)
-37 residents tested negative for COVID-19
– Two residents are hospitalized; we remain in consistent communication with our medical
director and local hospitals to ensure our residents are transferred if more acute care is
needed. We are also checking in with their families frequently and providing as much
support possible.
– Our other residents are receiving care in our COVID-19 isolation area from a dedicated
– Two residents have died.
– Testing has been made available to all associates. As of now, there are 12 positives. If an
associates tests positive they are only allowed to return to work when CDC guidelines for
returning to work are met.
Both the state and local health departments have been extremely supportive, and we extend our
sincere thanks. As of now, patients who test positive are separated from those who test negative.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of the residents who have passed away
as the result of COVID-19. Our facility is a family, and we’re all working together to take care of
our residents and each other. We remain committed to providing quality care as we fight

Jeffery Ricks, executive director, Life Care Center of Athens