Coronavirus live blog, April 2: Shelby County at 638 cases, 7 deaths

By Updated: April 02, 2020 10:18 PM CT | Published: April 02, 2020 4:00 AM CT

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Here’s the latest from Memphis and Shelby County, below, when it comes to dealing with the novel coronavirus. To view our full coverage, check out The Daily Memphian’s  coronavirus landing page.

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April 02, 2020

BlueCross waiving member costs for COVID-19 treatment

6:45 PM CT, April 2

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will waive all member cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments, including hospitalizations, through May 31, 2020, the company announced Thursday, April 2.

“As part of our mission, our first priority is the health of our members and the communities we serve,” said JD Hickey, M.D., president and CEO. “And since the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything our members have faced in recent memory, we want to make sure we remove any barriers to receiving the care they need.”

If a BlueCross member is diagnosed as having COVID-19, they will not have to pay any out-of-pocket costs for testing and treatment administered through in-network providers, including at a doctor’s office, urgent care facility and emergency room, as well as related inpatient hospital stays, through May 31.

The benefit is available for BlueCross members in fully insured group, individual, Medicare Advantage and BlueCare Tennessee plans.

BlueCross will encourage its self-funded employer group customers to participate in waiving cost sharing for COVID-19 treatments for their employees during the health crisis. Self-funded groups will have the ability to opt-out of this decision.

The announcement follows other steps BlueCross has taken recently to support members including:

 - Allowing early prescription refills and 90-day prescriptions to avoid increased risk of exposure

 - Expanding access to telehealth services by making PhysicianNow visits available at no cost and by covering virtual visits with network providers

 - And waiving member costs for any appropriate FDA-aligned test.

The BlueCross Foundation also has donated $3.25 million to food banks across the state to meet increased needs related to the pandemic and made donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) to some Tennessee health systems.

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Kroger says 2nd distribution center worker COVID-19 positive

5:17 PM CT, April 2

Kroger said it was taking precautions after a second worker at the Memphis Kroger Distribution Center tested positive for coronavirus.

A statement from Kroger’s Delta Division on Thursday, April 2, said the case was believed to be related to one reported last week.

“The associate was asked to self-isolate last Friday after the first case was announced. They are home and recovering. We believe the two cases are related,” the statement said.

“We will continue aggressively cleaning and sanitizing the facility. Before entering the building, each associate has their temperature checked as we take additional precautions to keep our associates safe,” it said.

The Commercial Appeal previously reported a work slowdown at the 400-worker distribution center after the first case surfaced. The center distributes groceries at about 100 Mid-South stores.

Kroger earlier this week announced a new “Hero Bonus” of $2 an hour above standard base pay for hourly, front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center workers, between March 29 and April 18.

On March 21 it announced one-time bonuses of $300 for full-time and $150 for part-time, payable April 3, for front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing and customer service workers.

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Watch Gov. Bill Lee’s press briefing live

3:08 PM CT, April 2

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is giving a press briefing.

Watch below:

 

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Gov. Lee to sign executive order requiring people to stay at home

2:22 PM CT, April 2

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday he will sign an executive order requiring Tennesseans to stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities as figures show an increase in citizen movement across the state. The order lasts for nearly two weeks.

“Over the last few weeks, we have seen decreases in movement around the state as Tennesseans socially distance and stay at home,” Lee said Thursday. “However, in recent days we have seen data indicating that movement may be increasing and we must get these numbers trending back down. I have updated my previous executive order to clearly require that Tennesseans stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities.”

Gov. Lee previously made a “safer at home” request of Tennessee residents.

Tennessee also is expecting the demand for hospital resources to reach its zenith on April 19, followed by a peak in fatalities at 165 the next day alone and 3,422 COVID-19-related deaths projected by Aug. 4, according to the model the state is using to prepare its response

Data from the Tennessee Department of Transportation analyzed traffic patterns for March 2020. While “safer at home” measures and further restrictions on businesses showed a steep drop-off in vehicle movement from March 13-29, data beginning on March 30 indicates travel is trending upwards again, according to the governor’s office.

The Lee administration also analyzed data from Unacast to understand cell phone mobility and determine movement trends among people. Unacast indicates the movement of Tennesseans is trending toward pre-COVID-19 levels.

“The month of April stands to be an extremely tough time for our state as we face the potential for a surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Lee. “Every Tennessean must take this seriously, remain at home and ensure we save lives.”

The executive order remains in effect until April 14, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. Gov. Lee will address these measures in the press briefing Thursday at 3 p.m.

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Shelby County at 638 coronavirus cases, 7 deaths Thursday afternoon

2:01 PM CT, April 2

Confirmed coronavirus cases hit 638 in Shelby County as of Thursday afternoon, up 28% from 497 Wednesday, with seven deaths.

Statewide, there are 2,683 people with the virus as of Thursday morning and 24 have died from it.

The positivity rate of those tested is 9.1%, Shelby County Department director Alisa Haushalter said.

Health officials expect the surge of patients in hospitals to occur the third week of April to the first of May.

People who are tested, and testing is increasing, should isolate themselves until test results are known.

That means staying at home, not going in or out.

Family members should stay in a different part of house during isolation, Haushalter said.

If you are a contact of someone who tested positive, you should isolate yourself for 14 days, again not going in or out of your house, and should separate yourself from family members. 

If you are caring for a sick person at home, wear gloves and a mask if you have them, she said.

She said it is recommended that swimming pools not open.

While preparing for the surge in patients, officials have to consider where homeless people will stay. Hotels and motels have reached out to the department, she said.

The need for more beds is being worked on, she said, including a site for a new 1,000-bed hospital that will be announced soon.

One of the two new deaths is under age 40, she said. Another victim was over age 80.

The West Tennessee Forensic Center has capacity for additional morgue needs, should the death toll rise.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime epidemic,” she said, and should be treated as such.

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Watch the Health Department briefing live

1:55 PM CT, April 2

The Shelby County Health Department’s daily novel coronavirus briefing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Watch below:

 

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COVID-19 death toll could top 3,400 in Tennessee

12:40 PM CT, April 2

Tennessee is expecting the demand for hospital resources to reach its zenith on April 19, followed by a peak in fatalities at 165 the next day alone and 3,422 COVID-19-related deaths projected by Aug. 4, according to the model the state is using to prepare its response.

The study put together by the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington shows Tennessee will need 15,618 beds for coronavirus patients but has only about half of those available, 7,800, while it will need 2,428 intensive care unit beds and faces a shortage of 1,799. Likewise, the state will need 1,943 ventilators to treat the potential number of patients.

The White House told Americans earlier this week the death toll could be 100,000 to 240,000 people during the course of the pandemic with an April 15 peak when 2,214 people could succumb to COVID-19. But new estimates in the institute’s forecast are showing the worse scenario with 4,400 deaths on April 21, according to reports.

State leaders are scouring Tennessee for hospital bed space, enlisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess everything from hotel rooms to convention centers, unused hospitals and college dormitories. Meanwhile, hospitals are being asked to prepare every bed possible for the coming surge.

The curve for COVID-19 for hospital needs and deaths per day is expected to flatten out in mid-May, according to the projection.

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City braces for surge; seeks medical volunteers, beds

12:16 PM CT, April 2

City COO Doug McGowen says city is looking for 1,000 extra beds. These could be set up at one site or several. City should have announcement on this sometime tomorrow.

He says FedExForum has been explored but there are problems with the layout necessary for hospital beds. The floor would not hold all 1,000 beds.

McGowen says city will need medical volunteers to staff the alternative medical site and a call for that will follow the site selection.

McGowen says so far ventilators, ICU beds and beds in general at Memphis hospitals are in good shape with no shortages. He emphasizes that is about a week ahead or if there is a big surge. Some projections show the coming peak won’t be as severe in surrounding areas on the other side of the city limits— but there is a surge coming.

Regarding the number of beds in use that would trigger alternative bed sites McGowen said, “We’ve reached the trigger already. As soon as we identify the site for alternative care or sites we will begin the build out.”

Dr. Manoj Jain said, “What we are beginning to see is a surge of patients coming into the hospitals.”

He added that the state needs double the current number of hospital beds, three times more ventilators and four times more ICU beds. He said similar numbers will reach Shelby County in the next few days.

Jain said more exact figures on the city’s needs for hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators will be available shortly. 

Jain says no specific numbers or estimate yet on how many could die in metro Memphis area. But he compares it to 250 deaths from flu in metro Memphis area a year. “What we are looking at with (COVID) is a factor greater. It could be five or 10 times greater numbers of deaths we could potentially be looking at.”

But Jain emphasizes that factor is controllable and can be changed by social distancing. “It is us, we who can dictate how high that peak will be as well as the duration of that peak.”

Jain said it is difficult to track the spread of COVID because might be a few days before someone feels like they have to be tested and then a few days with test results coming back in some cases.

“That delay leads to us not being able to know where we are on the epidemic curve,” he said. “But when we walk back we can have a sense of when there is an intermingling. … That was probably happening in the middle of March time frame. What we do now has an impact several weeks down the pike.”

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Watch live: COVID-19 Task Force update

12:01 PM CT, April 2

The City of Memphis and Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force will share updates at noon today.

Scheduled speakers include City of Memphis' chief operating officer Doug McGowen and Dr. Manoj Jain, infectious disease specialist.

Watch below:

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U of M fabricating face-shield frames in COVID-19 effort

11:33 AM CT, April 2

The University of Memphis is fabricating face-shield frames using its 3-D printers 24 hours a day to provide to hospitals in Tennessee, including Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, to aid in combating COVID-19.

The work is taking place in the Metal Additive Manufacturing Lab at the Herff College of Engineering, according to a U of M release.

Staff members have delivered 135 3-D printed face-shield frames, which is equivalent to more than 2,000 face shields that are currently used, according to Dr. Ebrahim Asadi, the lab’s director and assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Asadi drove 83 frames to Jackson, Tennessee, Tuesday to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, which will deliver the PPEs to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

All hospitals and clinics in need of these emergency PPEs will need to contact their local emergency management agencies. TEMA will receive those requests from local emergency management agencies and distribute PPEs to those local agencies as needed.

Asadi delivered 52 frames to Le Bonheur Friday, March 27.

Le Bonheur, which currently has enough supplies for its staff, is being proactive for the future.

“We appreciate the support of community partners like the University of Memphis during this uncertain time,” said Dr. Barry Gilmore, chief medical officer of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. “Their offer of help means so much to our clinical experts who are working around-the-clock to help keep kids healthy and well.”

Using five commercial-grade 3D printers, the UofM Metal Additive Manufacturing Lab has been printing around the clock. Each printer has the capability to produce three to four frames at a time, taking two to three hours for each run.

The first successful prototypes were completed the weekend of March 20-22. Asadi started activating as many printers as he could on campus to increase the capacity since March 23.

Statewide, universities are printing face-shields in response to a call from Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

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Memphis whiskey maker adds sanitizer production

11:17 AM CT, April 2

Another Memphis whiskey maker is making hand sanitizer to meet demand in the coronavirus pandemic.

B.R. Distilling Company said it is producing more than 250,000 units of medical-grade hand sanitizer for an initial order to supply hospitals and first responders nationwide. It expects the project to grow during the next month.

Previously, Old Dominick Distillery said it would produce up to 10,000 units of hand sanitizer for distribution to lower-income, elderly and homeless people in Shelby County.

B.R. Distilling, formerly known as Big River Distillling, produces Blue Note Bourbon and Riverset Rye at a facility in North Memphis.

B.R. Distilling director of operations Alexander Folk said in a news release, “As a Memphis-based, manufacturing business, we were presented with a unique opportunity to make a large impact on our nation’s critical supply chain needs.

“As a team, we made the decision to retool our whiskey production lines to help manufacture this critical resource in order to meet the escalating demand,” Folk said.

B.R. has already shipped several truck loads produced according to guidelines set by the World Health Organization and Food and Drug Administration. The sanitizer isn’t available for wholesale or retail purchase.

“We have been called to action, but we have limited supplies and resources relative to the enormity of this crisis,” said McCauley Williams, president and chief executive officer of B.R. Distilling. “We wish we had enough supplies to give away hand sanitizer to every individual who wants it, but we do not. Right now, it is critical we get this product to the organizations on the front lines who are fighting tirelessly.”

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Tami Sawyer tests negative for COVID-19

10:14 AM CT, April 2

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer confirmed to The Daily Memphian she tested negative for COVID-19 Thursday, April 2, the same day her self-isolation period ended. 

<strong>Tami Sawyer</strong>

Tami Sawyer

The negative result came after her second test for coronavirus. Results for the first one have not come back following a delay in processing results that potentially affected up to 30 people.

Christ Community Health Services, where Sawyer took the test, said the delay was a result of using LabCorp to process results. It has since switched to Poplar Healthcare, and hopes to get COVID-19 test results in 24 to 48 hours.  

Sawyer, 37, was first tested for the coronavirus exactly two weeks ago at Christ Community Health Services in Orange Mound. She did not receive a request from Christ Community to take a retest until day 12 of her self-isolation period. 

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

The two-week wait on those results lasted the entire length of her self-isolation. 

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Shelby County cases up to 638

8:36 AM CT, April 2

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases is 638 in Shelby County as of Thursday morning, up from 497 Wednesday, with five deaths.

Statewide, there are 2,683 people with the virus and 24 have died from it, according to the latest figures from the City of Memphis.

In Shelby County, 7,007 people have been tested and 9.11% have tested positive. Statewide, 32,452 have been tested with a positive rate of 8.27%.

The city’s COVID-19 website shows 200 people across the state are hospitalized as of Thursday morning.

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April 01, 2020

Marshall County Schools suspends meal program

10:32 PM CT, April 1

Marshall County School District in North Mississippi is suspending its meal program until further notice.

The district made the decision after at least one employee tested positive for COVID-19. However, the social media post said “employee(s)” so it is possible multiple tested positive.

Mississippi State Health Department reported 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases of the virus Wednesday,

The district said while they were not involved in food preparation, they helped distribute meals and made copies for students’ take-home learning material.

Symptoms were not exhibited while working. As soon as symptoms developed, they self-quarantined and did not return.

Marshall County School District sites are closed for the next 14 days and being cleaned and disinfected.

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FedExForum considered for hospital overflow

7:36 PM CT, April 1

The Memphis Grizzlies have been contacted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the possibility of FedExForum being used as a medical facility to deal with potential hospital overflow as COVID-19 cases are expected to surge in Tennessee in the coming weeks, a source with knowledge of the communication has confirmed.  This was initially reported by 92.9 radio host Gary Parrish.

Gov. Bill Lee said during his press conference earlier in the day that the state may need 7,000 more hospital beds to deal with the expected surge. FedExForum is apparently among multiple sites being considered to address to potential need. 

The source also confirmed Parrish’s report that Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera has made a donation to the Mid-South Food Bank that would provide 300,000 meals locally.

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issues statewide Shelter-in-Place order

4:34 PM CT, April 1

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a statewide Shelter-in-Place order Wednesday.

The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, April 3, and remains in effect until April 20.

“We have to make sure our people understand if you will comply, we will be able to slow this spread,” Reeves said, hopeful he would not have to extend the order.

The order requires non-essential businesses to have minimal operations and are outlined in the order.

“Grocery stores are going to stay open, other essential operations will stay open,” he said. 

Under the executive order, groups of 10 people or more are prohibited. In an effort to discourage congregation, amusement parks, museums, beaches, lakes, movie theaters and parks will be closed. Walking trails will remain open.

Reeves has seen “clusters” of people not working and gathering, which contributes to spread of disease.

The order gives the state the ability to enforce the guidelines. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and law enforcement will help enforce the measures.

It would have been politically easier to make this decision weeks ago, he noted. The decision was “data driven and based upon advice of the experts.”

He was touched by texts of people saying they were praying for him as he navigated COVID-19’s effects on the Magnolia State.

“The most important mechanism we have in Mississippi is you the people,” he said. “If you will stay at home ... we will be successful in slowing spread.”

As of Wednesday, the state was reporting 1,073 confirmed cases and 22 deaths due to complications from the disease.

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Strickland: Only one family member should grocery shop at a time

3:48 PM CT, April 1

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland met with local grocers Wednesday, April 1, one of several meetings he’s had on a frequent basis with industry groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out of the meeting came a call by Strickland to have only one family member grocery shop at a time.

“This will help with social distancing by having less people in the store at the same time and also allows staff to restock the shelves,” Strickland wrote in his daily email update on the pandemic.

Some supermarkets already have signs up at check out lines marking six feet between customers and/or urging groups of people buying food to break up during the check out. Some also have special hours for those over 60 to shop apart from other age groups.

Strickland also has a public service announcement that begins airing on radio stations immediately emphasizing his theme of “working together to stay apart.”

“The most important thing you can do right now is stay at home,” he said in the message. “This is serious and you need to take it seriously. We will get through this Memphis.”

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