Mayor: Daily COVID-19 data reports help county marshal its resources

By , Guest Columnist Published: April 19, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Lee Harris

Lee Harris was elected Shelby County mayor in August 2018.

<strong>Lee Harris</strong>

Lee Harris

COVID-19 spreads quickly. The staff and leadership of the Shelby County Health Department also move fast. It was a Tuesday when the local press asked for COVID-19-related data by race. In less than 24 hours, researchers at the Health Department were able to provide the first sections of this data.

They have expanded their investigations to include race and begin the methodical process of looking at older cases and coordinating with health care professionals to fill-in gaps. They offered the same quick reply when asked for data by ZIP code and, on separate occasions, when one reporter asked me for information on nursing homes and another asked about demographic information on children who have contracted COVID-19.

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In fact, every day, our Health Department releases data by ZIP code, age, race, gender, number of confirmed positive cases – overall and by day – and negative cases. They even provide data about surrounding counties. They have created scores of heat maps, bar graphs, line graphs and pie charts. They record the outcome of each of the 3,000 calls to the Health Department and calls to the various hotlines they have helped to set up and help manage. That’s how we learned much of the information about the spread of COVID-19 locally.

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One of the lessons from the local data is consistent with the national conversation. As has been discussed repeatedly by the CDC, those with a serious underlying medical condition are more likely to require intensive treatment. It means that serious medical conditions are closely correlated with death or severe reaction to infection. That has been borne out in our local data as well. Local data show that a vast majority of those who died from COVID-19 disease (80%) had a cardiac condition.

Another point is that the preliminary data reported on race may be an indication that the novel coronavirus is heavily impacting minorities in our community. For instance, local data so far shows that 75% of the COVID-19 deaths are African American residents.

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When it comes to the racial implications of the data, most observers note the correlation between race and pre-existing conditions.

Also, I suspect that the relatively large number of African American cases that have been revealed so far is partly a function of the disparities in wealth and access and distribution of resources.

Much of our community is closed, but many are still working. Health care workers, for instance, are still working. We are thankful that, even in this time of risk, they are living up to their duty to serve the ill and those in need.

In addition, our grocery stores, pharmacies, and manufacturing facilities are still open. Buses are still running, and many takeout restaurants are still humming with activity.

Many of the frontline jobs are held by African Americans.

They are at the checkout, the drive-thru, on the production line, at the warehouse, behind the wheel of the bus, or bounding up to your door to deliver packages and drop the mail. These are men and women who are not at home, but working hourly wage jobs, providing essential services that we are all thankful for.

These men and women are also exposing themselves and their families to a higher risk than if they stayed home.

140 years after yellow fever, surprisingly little has changed

By the way, we have seen this story before. In the 19th century, when yellow fever devastated Memphis, the African American community was disproportionately impacted. Memphians were not told to stay home when yellow fever struck. They were told to pack up and leave Memphis. As a result, everyone who could afford to take precautions and leave Memphis did. For the most part, Memphis’ African Americans did not have the resources to leave Memphis, to take precautions, to avoid yellow fever.

The African American community stayed, hunkered down, and tried to survive a disease that health care professionals could not cure or treat.

The Health Department will continue to provide data by race, among a variety of reports it delivers every day. This data helps us know where to focus resources, like testing, that can prevent outbreaks and hot spots from developing. This data helps us shape messaging and identify messengers. Finally, this data has long-term value for future research and can shape public policy and help save lives.


covid-19 predictions Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris

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