Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd 4-29-20

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   Unified-Command Group Tests More Than 7,000 Tennesseans at Weekend Drive- Through Sites

   Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced more than 7,000 Tennesseans received free COVID-19 tests, regardless of symptoms, during Unified-Command Group’s second weekend of expanded testing efforts at 18 sites across the state.

   “We expanded testing availability to any Tennessean who believes they need a test because testing remains one of our most important tools in tracking and mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” said Gov. Lee. “We’re grateful to the thousands of Tennesseans who came out to get tested, and we’re incredibly thankful for the efforts of our Department of Health and National Guard personnel for making these testing sites a reality.”

   Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee National Guard personnel tested 4,247 individuals on Saturday at 10 sites across all three grand divisions. Two metropolitan areas, Hamilton and Shelby counties, were added from the previous weekend with the Hamilton site operating Saturday and Sunday. Eight sites were operational on Sunday with 2,856 individuals tested. On both days lanes at certain sites were opened early to accommodate large lines and some sites offered “walk-up” testing to alleviate potential delays.

   “We’re pleased with the number of Tennesseans who came out to get tested, and our capacity could have handled twice as many tests if needed,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. “As Tennesseans begin the process of returning to work, we strongly encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities to get a test and help us mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

   Unified-Command will continue expanded testing throughout the weekend of May 2-3. An updated list of available sites will be posted on the Department of Health’s website. All rural county health departments across the state offer free COVID-19 testing 5 days a week, in addition to drive-through sites.

   A joint partnership between the Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee Department of Military and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Unified-Command was established on March 23 by Gov. Lee and serves as the state’s coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic.

   New IDEA Grants Available for School Districts

   The Tennessee Department of Education today announced a new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Technology Partnership Grant, making $1 million dollars available for Tennessee school districts to better support the educational needs of students with disabilities by addressing technology needs that are a result of COVID-19 school closures.

   This grant, which uses federal IDEA discretionary funds, will support districts in purchasing additional assistive technology and other tools to increase access to services and instruction for students with disabilities during school closures. 

   “All students must have access to learning and services during school closures,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “The department is continuing to work with districts to serve the needs of all students—and we know they are facing new and unprecedented challenges to delivering instruction to students with disabilities. This grant will help bridge those needs with new resources so school and district staff can continue the critical work of supporting and enhancing access and opportunities for students with disabilities.”

   All school districts are invited to apply for the IDEA Technology Partnership Grant. Districts that submit applications meeting minimum requirements are eligible to receive funding per the demonstrated student need, ranging from $2,500 to $20,000. The application, which is available now on ePlan, is due May 8. Awards will be announced May 15.

   “Virtual learning provides schools opportunities to continue instruction for all students even during building closures, but it presents new challenges to serving students with disabilities who need direct support to access curriculum,” said Assistant Commissioner for Special Populations, Theresa Nicholls. “This grant provides additional resources to districts as they seek to serve all students during this time and increases the supports available to students with disabilities to ensure their access to learning opportunities.” Additional application information for this grant is available on the department’s COVID-19 webpage.

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas, concerns, and suggestions during the second half of the 111th General Assembly.