Memphis needs answers

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 18, 2020 4:56 PM CT | Published: March 18, 2020 3:49 PM CT
Ronnie Ramos
Daily Memphian

Ronnie Ramos

Ronnie Ramos is executive editor of The Daily Memphian. 

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

We need answers.

We have no idea how many coronavirus tests are available here in Memphis, or how many people have been tested. State leaders, local leaders, local health leaders, local labs — are failing to inform our residents. 

We do know that in Tennessee, a state of 6.7 million people, our state government was given 500 tests. But is that all the testing that is going on in the state?

We don’t know how many tests local hospitals have, how many tests private and commercial labs have. We don’t even have an idea how many people in Memphis have actually been tested for a dangerous virus that has prompted unparalleled actions by federal, state and local governments.

Untangling the testing process: With state shortage, who is getting tested and how

Instead, we had dozens of local elected officials and community leaders leave to Ghana (county officials will not even say who went on the trip) while the pandemic escalated. County government and health leaders refused to say why County Mayor Lee Harris and county commissioner Mickell Lowery, who were among those who went to Ghana, missed a county meeting on Wednesday. They refused to say whether they were being quarantined. Do they pose a health risk because of their activities overseas? Are they part of the 130 local residents being monitored?

We simply are not getting the necessary answers.

Hospital leaders are not communicating with the public. Memphians deserve to know if our major local hospitals have tests or have developed their own tests. And we need to know how many people have been tested. Vanderbilt in Nashville supposedly has tested 2,600 people, but there is no official confirmation. 

Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, private laboratories that are handling tests in Tennessee, should report how many local and state residents have been tested. Wednesday, we reported that American Esoteric Laboratories began testing in Shelby County. Yet they, too, refuse to say how many people have been tested.

Memphis lab to have capacity to analyze thousands of tests this week

Releasing the volume of tests completed is not a privacy issue; it’s a matter of significant public concern. Consider this: If 50,000 people in Shelby County have been tested and there are only four confirmed cases, that paints a vastly different picture than if 100 people in Shelby County have been tested, with four confirmed cases.

The public deserves to know, because this growing crisis in communication is fueling uncertainty, hoarding and fear among the people of Memphis.

County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said Tuesday at a news conference that “we are relying heavily on the media” to get important information to the public. That’s fine. The media plays a critical role in disseminating accurate, complete and important information.

But we can’t do that if we don’t get more answers.

State has only 500 coronavirus tests available

We are doing our best to tell readers what is happening with the virus, especially regarding testing in Memphis. Yesterday, our reporters here and at the state capital pulled together the most definitive story so far on the state of testing in Memphis.

Memphians are looking for answers amid these uncertain times. More transparency is needed, not less.

We will continue to demand answers on behalf of our community.

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