Phase 2 of local pandemic: moving from stabilization to containment

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 24, 2020 4:00 AM CT | Published: April 24, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Call it phase two of the COVID-19 pandemic in Memphis – a tentative stabilization and focus on containment.

“It has stabilized. Two to three weeks ago, we were on an exponential rise. And that was quite worrisome,” infectious diseases expert Dr. Manoj Jain said Thursday, April 23, during a recording of the WKNO Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

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“We have seen clearly a flattening of that curve. And there is no question – it’s the sacrifice of the people in Memphis and Shelby County that has done that,” said Jain, who is a consultant to the local COVID-19 task force. “The question now is, will that rise continue or is that flattening and could there be a decline and what is our capacity? It’s hard to tell.

“But overall, I feel confident that we have the capacity to manage the cases that we have even if there is and continues to be a rise.”

<strong>Dr. Manoj Jain</strong>

Dr. Manoj Jain

For most Memphians, the shift in focus will be most visible with a mix of changes beginning this weekend to the countywide state of civil emergency. It is a mix of reopening five of the eight city golf courses and private golf courses within the city and new restrictions on all big box retail, including capacity limits for how many people can be in the stores at one time.

For Jain and other health care professionals working on the pandemic, the shift is toward a greater focus on testing and tracing contacts of those who test positive. Also, there’s a move toward isolating those with the virus and those who have had contact with the virus, whether they initially test positive or not.

“There’s no question we have to work on the reopening. But the reopening has to be done in the new normal. That’s what is critically important,” he said. “And we have to be thinking about what are the ways we can make an impact on reducing the curve or maintaining it.”

Behind the Headlines Podcast: Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Manoj Jain

Produced by Natalie Van Gundy

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play.

When Jain talks about testing, he and others are still talking about testing those with symptoms, including what might be vague symptoms that have proven to be presenting signs of COVID-19 as medical professionals have learned more about the virus. There is also testing of first-line responders who have contact on a regular basis with those who might have the virus.

“This is the second phase of what will be our strategic approach,” he said. “In the first stage, this was a sort of blunt approach, which was everything shuts down, social distancing, lockdown. … Now we are taking a more surgical approach, which is expanded testing, contact tracing, isolation and surveillance.”

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Jain is among the medical professionals who want to see the labor intensive contact tracing become more than solely the responsibility of public health care agencies like the Shelby County Health Department.

“We need to be thinking about potential privatizing or allowing the public-private partnership to work on contact tracing,” Jain said. “It’s really difficult to be able to scale up and expand so quickly from the health department. We have private labs that came in and then the testing has changed phenomenally nationally. We could do a similar thing with the contact tracing.”

Jain also says beyond the immediate pandemic, public health and private health care should redefine their roles.

“We have to really rethink how we are providing both public health care and private health care. And we have to really rethink public health care. It has been an approach that has been relegated to the public health department,” he said of a balance between wellness and treatment.

“Public health care, private health care have to be aligned; otherwise, we will not succeed in successfully containing this epidemic in the present time but also in the future and any future events that happen,” he said.

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes of The Daily Memphian airs on WKNO Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. The show can also be heard on the Behind The Headlines podcast on this site.

COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County: April


coronavirus contact tracing Manoj Jain Behind The Headlines

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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