Tami Sawyer among those getting retested for COVID-19 after delays

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 01, 2020 9:10 AM CT | Published: March 31, 2020 5:35 PM CT

Following the March 18 Shelby County Commission committee session, Commissioner Tami Sawyer began experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19, including coughing and breathing issues.

The next day she was tested for coronavirus at Christ Community Health Services’ drive-thru location in South Memphis. Sawyer, 37, then went into self-isolation for 14 days, and expected to hear results back within five to seven days.

Christ Community holds drive-thru COVID-19 testing

Twelve more days passed without Sawyer finding out if she was positive or negative for coronavirus.

She then received a request from Christ Community to come in for a retest Tuesday, March 31, due to a delay in results for potentially up to 30 people in the five-day period when she was tested.

The request did not come until Day 12 despite being in daily contact with Christ Community, Sawyer said.

“I’ve been home in self-isolation for 12 days,” Sawyer said. “I’m very privileged to be able to do that, so imagine someone who took that test and wasn’t able to stay home and still doesn’t have results.”

Shayla Williamson, Christ Community chief nursing and quality officer, confirmed about 20 to 30 test results were delayed at Christ Community’s coronavirus testing sites – including Sawyer’s.

Christ Community had been using LabCorp to process coronavirus testing results until Monday, March 30, Williamson said. She attributed the delay in results with using a national lab like LabCorp.

“When we first started our testing, we were using a national lab,” Williamson said. “As testing supplies increased, their volume increased. They’re getting over 20,000 tests a day. They’re processing time increased. Her (Sawyer) results were in that group. They were delayed, not lost. As we identified that results were being delayed and processing times were increasing, we began to look for a local lab.”

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Poplar Healthcare, a leading anatomic and molecular pathology laboratory headquartered in Memphis, is now processing those tests, and expects to have results back to patients in 24 to 48 hours. Christ Community is hopeful this will address the delays moving forward.

News of the delays come as Sawyer and County Commissioners Edmund Ford Jr., and Eddie Jones are exploring ways to find county funds to increase testing and the number the number of testing sites in North and South Memphis.

The issue will likely be discussed as an add-on resolution at the Wednesday, April 1, committee sessions. All county commission meetings will be held online until further notice.

“You have some areas that do not necessarily have in close proximity medical facilities that other areas have,” Ford said. “At the end of the day, we need to make sure everyone has access regardless of where they live and regardless of what their demographic is and socioeconomic status is.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 405 confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Shelby County, and 2,239 cases statewide.

Christ Community has contacted all patients impacted by the delays to let them know they can get retested using the new local lab’s processing results.

About 230 people have been tested for COVID-19 at Christ Community, Williamson said. That means about 8.7% to 13% of results have been affected by the delays. 

“We do wait until it has exceeded the time period we communicated to the patient,” Williamson said.

Through rapid testing, Sawyer is expected to get her results back either Wednesday or Thursday, by which time her self-isolation period may have already ended.

Sawyer described the test as “the worst thing anyone can ever experience.” Those doing the testing put a swab into each side of your nose and throat, she said. 

“And I still highly encourage people to get tested,” she said. 

She said the test took about five minutes, and was told she would receive results Wednesday. 

Christ Community has also since centralized its testing sites to a single drive-thru location at 3362 S. Third St. in South Memphis. It had been testing at its other clinic sites such as in Orange Mound, but made the change to help control exposure to coronavirus, Williamson said.

Hospital load ‘manageable’ now; surge expected in month

The Third Street site offers daily testing from 3 to 4 p.m., but is by appointment only, and all potential patients are screened for symptoms over the phone.

Sawyer is grateful that sites like Christ Community’s are testing in underserved areas, but the situation she’s witnessed only shows a greater need to increase sites in those areas.

“The locations that are testing are too overwhelmed or have rushed into a process with labs that aren’t prepared to serve them,” she said.

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March


Christ Community Health Services Tami Sawyer COVID-19 COVID-19 remote testing Edmund Ford Jr.
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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