Coronavirus live blog, April 29: How the 38118 ZIP code became a coronavirus ‘hot spot’

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 08, 2020 8:36 AM CT | Published: April 29, 2020 9:28 AM CT

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April 29, 2020

How the 38118 ZIP code became a coronavirus ‘hot spot’

4:36 PM CT, April 29

Local health officials are pushing to expand testing and educational efforts regarding COVID-19 in one of the hardest hit Shelby County ZIP codes.

The rate of positive tests in 38118 is between 13.1% to 19%. That’s the highest of any ZIP code in Shelby County, according to data from the Shelby County Health Department.

Between 929 to 1,100 tests for coronavirus have been administered in the 38118 ZIP code located south of Interstate 240 to the Mississippi state line and east of Memphis International Airport.

Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community Health Services, said the nonprofit health care clinic discovered more than 170 coronavirus cases in the 38118 ZIP code. Leatherwood, in comments on The Daily Memphian’s Extra Podcast, said the area, which contains a trailer park, is a target for expanded testing.

“Clearly, a hot spot,” Leatherwood said. “That is the next area we have prioritized.”

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter addressed the reasons for the coronavirus problems in 38118 at a press briefing Wednesday.

“These are people who live very closely together in the same neighborhood,” Haushalter said. “We do know there’s transmission based on family relationships, social relationships and not just neighborhood relationships but individuals who may go to the same facilities. They may or may not have been practicing good social distancing.”

Haushalter also gave encouraging news about 38118 regarding coronavirus. She said the positivity rate has decreased there as they have increased educational awareness resulting in reduced transmission and more social distancing in the area.

On improving educational awareness when it comes to the virus, Haushalter said patients are told to self-isolate after getting tested at all the community testing sites. This is to reduce any potential spread of the coronavirus.

Haushalter said the Health Department has also improved its contact tracing materials, so individuals can track those they have been in contact with quicker, so they can be quarantined.


State to focus on nursing home testing

3:16 PM CT, April 29

The state will embark on widespread testing in all long-term facilities in Tennessee, 700 facilities with 70,000 residents, partnering with National Health Care Corporation to test all residents in its 38 facilities.

The Unified Command group is also planning to increase testing in the minority community and will start working in low-income areas in days, the governor said.

Hospitalizations increased to 1013, 13% higher than Tuesday’s total of 894. This is not reflective of 119 people suddenly being hospitalized in the last day or two.

That’s according to Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.


Tennessee adds 314 cases, 7 deaths

3:11 PM CT, April 29

Tennessee has 314 more confirmed coronavirus cases and seven more deaths from the disease, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Tennessee now has 10,366 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 195 deaths. More than 1,000 people have been hospitalized -- 1,013 -- and 5,140 people are considered recovered.

Since yesterday’s update, 6,621 more tests have been administered, for a total of 168,549.


Watch Gov. Bill Lee’s press briefing live

3:01 PM CT, April 29

Gov. Bill Lee’s daily coronavirus press briefing is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Watch below:



Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sues over Joe Towns vote

2:35 PM CT, April 29

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit Wednesday, April 29, 2020, against the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance contending it violated the open meetings act with an email vote to cut penalties owed by state Rep. Joe Towns.

The lawsuit targets an April 1 count allegedly conducted in secret by the Registry when it decided to accept a settlement and reduce the amount Towns owed by $44,100.

Memphis Fourth Estate, ownership company of The Daily Memphian, is among several newspaper groups in Tennessee joining the lawsuit, along with the Associated Press, numerous reporters and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. The filing was made in Davidson County Chancery Court.

The scenario played out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping members from gathering for the meeting. One member was stranded in South France.

But the lawsuit argues the vote was illegal even though Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order enabling electronic meetings. 

Towns had declined to file reports for more than two years and piled up $65,000 in civil penalties with the board.

The email vote was 4-2 and done the day before Towns had to file qualifying papers to run for re-election. He wouldn’t have been able to run if he hadn’t paid the penalties.

Bill Young, executive director of the Registry, told The Daily Memphian shortly after the vote he followed recommendations of Attorney General Herbert Slatery and talked to each board member before asking them to vote by email on a proposed settlement for Towns, which allowed him to pay about $22,000.

Young said Wednesday he and board members would not comment on pending litigation. The Attorney General’s Office is handling the case, and it doesn’t discuss pending cases.

Just days after the vote, though, Registry member Tom Lawless said: “I do not feel that it was an appropriate meeting and was not an appropriate action under open meetings (law). More importantly, the whole purpose of our entity is transparency and openness to the public, the media and the Legislature, and I don’t like the way it happened.”

The lawsuit contends state law requires the board to file notice in advance of the meeting and to hold the vote in a public venue.

“The Open Meetings Act plainly states – and courts in Tennessee upheld – that all votes by a government body must be public, and that secret votes, including by electronic communications such as email, must not be used to decide public business,” Paul McAdoo, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement.

“While government officials implement necessary changes in how they conduct business during the pandemic consistent with Governor Lee’s executive order, they must still uphold both the letter and the spirit of Tennessee’s transparency laws.”

Katie Townsend, legal director of the Reporters Committee, said the lawsuit “strikes at the core” of journalists’ concerns that reporting is often “stymied” by lack of access to public meetings and records.

“The Open Meetings Act is intended to ensure that public officials are accountable to the communities they serve. Enforcing that transparency mandate is essential,” Townsend said in a statement.

Tennessee Coalition for Open Government joined the lawsuit after raising concerns about the Registry’s vote immediately after it took place.

Executive Director Deborah Fisher previously told The Daily Memphian: “I don’t believe that the action that the board took in violation of the Open Meetings Act is valid. I just don’t think the board can vote and take action outside of a meeting.”

Fisher predicted the Registry’s action could put Towns’ re-election bid in a precarious situation if its action is deemed illegal.


Haushalter, Harris: businesses should prepare for reopening

12:07 PM CT, April 29

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said we are close to a 14-day period for a downward trend in cases and stabilization to do the Phase 1 reopening.

On suburban mayors possibly splitting and going their own way, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said all leaders are still together at this point.

Haushalter said they looked at data several different ways including the weekend spike and without it. There is still an upward trend, but they will look at again tomorrow. Again she says we are “very close” to 14 days.

Haushalter said they want people to begin to prepare for reopening. Some businesses may need more technical assistance and some need more lead time. She encourages them to begin preparation and now wait for the announcement.

Harris said ditto on that. “I think we are very close.” “If you have inventory there’s no reason you couldn’t prepare.”

He said once the date is announced you don’t have to open at “first hour.” “You can take things on your own timetable,” Harris said.

Haushalter again says she won’t give a date for the first phase reopening. Since the March 24 business closings she said exponential growth day-to-day has slowed. In the last 10 days or so we began to actually decrease, the indication is less transmission locally.

The replication rate has gone from 1 to 4 or 5 to 1 to 1.2 or 1.3. The goal is to get it below 1 on 1.

”Overall most people have complied,” she said. “And we believe people will continue to exercise appropriate judgment.”

Harris began the COVID Joint Task Force meeting by saying that Shelby County government is receiving $49.9 million in federal grant money for COVID-19 relief and expenses only.

He told county commissioners this earlier in the morning.

This follows work at city council yesterday that the city is getting $113.6 million in similar CARES funding.

Harris said the money will be used for community services division programs -- food, utility and rent assistance fund.

“There is tremendous need out there in this moment,” he said.

He also said the health department has significant need, and that money will go toward more staffing for them on a long-term basis to fill gaps and more when temporary employees from elsewhere go back to their regular jobs.

Prior to spending lots of that funding, will talk with six suburban cities and towns about their needs and other partners including those involved in testing.

He said that county government has been impacted by the spread of coronavirus: 74 employees tested positive, 156 are now under quarantine, 274 employees who have returned to work, out of 5,700 total employees.

Haushalter said it’s “disconcerting” that most of those who have tested positive in Shelby County have been asymptomatic. When they expanded testing to include the jail they may have confirmed that younger people are more likely to be asymptomatic. They might change requirements for who to test.

Haushalter said we have sufficient lab capacity here as well as testing supplies. They want to expand to get people tested. A month ago, the turnaround for tests was six to 10 days. Now it’s 24 to 48 hours. The earlier delay has made it difficult to get people isolated quickly.

 “That’s critical to us reducing transmission,” she said.

They also got a standardized form to start to identify contacts.

On targeted testing in ZIP code 38118: the health department is looking at addresses where cases are and now it’s family and social spread, as well as individuals who may go to the same facility and not practicing social distancing. They have done educational material and sought out leaders in the community to be followed by more testing. The positivity rate there has started to go down.

She said they are working “multiple clusters” and will focus more on those in nursing homes and jails and prisons as well as households and hot spots.

On 201 Poplar, that will be a focus.

“We know those particular populations are vulnerable” with a virus that spreads three times faster than the flu, she said. That includes focusing on essential workers who come in and out as well as detainees who are in and out faster.

They tested 266 individuals at jail, they thought they might test 400, but it’s 266. Test results through yesterday show 155 positive and 37 employees at jail. They are working on trying to reduce transmission and get medical care with isolation for those positive.

Haushalter said they asked for technical assistance for jail testing from the state. They have an epidemiologist who has worked specifically in prisons. He estimated areas where it would be needed to test. They came up with 400 to 450 and they had test kits for them. Only one prisoner refused. Prisoners who were not able to be tested she says they will try to test this week. The 266 number includes prisoners and staff.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said 50 deputies, four law enforcement and three civilians who have tested positive; the two in the hospital are “doing well.”

They are working to “responsibly reduce jail population,” Bonner said.

Detainees who tested positive are all there on felony charges, including first degree murder. They are using a sterilized housing unit for those under quarantine. They don’t know how they contracted virus at this point.

Bonner said they have not seen a spike in incidents in jail. The jail also has mental health counseling. Those positive were moved to sixth floor of jail.

Haushalter said the source in jail cases is difficult to determine who was the “index case” who began the chain. 

“We will look at where people moved within the system,” she said. “We will look at when people entered the facility. ... But the truth is ultimately we may not identify an index case.” 

The priority is stopping the spread.

Bonner said social distancing practices in jail are difficult. He said the jail was built almost 40 years ago. In jail during this, he says all inmates have access to soap and hand sanitizer. Two weeks ago, they issued prisoners masks.

“We’re doing all we can to fight this virus and slow it down in our facility,” he said.

He said the sixth floor where the positive cases are has been sanitized.

”Everyone is struggling with this now,” he says of prisons across the country.

The jail is down to 381 detainees now, a reduction of 17%. They are looking to release more “safely out into the community.”


Mississippi adds 227 cases, 11 deaths

11:58 AM CT, April 29

Mississippi has 227 more confirmed coronavirus cases and 11 deaths resulting from the disease, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Statewide the agency reports a total of 6,569 confirmed cases and 250 deaths.

In Mississippi, 66,094 have been tested.

DeSoto County has 277 confirmed cases, resulting in four deaths. Marshall County has 42 cases, resulting in two deaths.


Barber shops, hair and nail salons to open May 6 outside of Shelby

11:19 AM CT, April 29

Gov. Bill Lee reportedly told legislators in a conference call today that barber shops, salons, nail salons and massage therapy shops will be opened on May 6.

The planned lifting of the order on barber shops and hair salons would not affect Shelby County, which has been given leeway to make its own reopening plans.

Lee said Tuesday he doesn’t expect to order Shelby County officials to open business. A spokesman also said he is not concerned about potential confusion within the public about the lack of a firm date for Shelby and Memphis businesses to open.

Restaurants opened Monday at 50% capacity, and retail stores opened today with limited capacity, both using social distancing guidelines.

Gyms and hospitals are to open Friday with their own sets of guidelines and local plans.

House Majority Chairman Jeremy Faison and state Sen. Paul Bailey confirmed the pending announcement on Twitter.


Fourth MATA employee tests positive for coronavirus

11:13 AM CT, April 29

A fourth Memphis Area Transit Authority employee has tested positive for the coronavirus, MATA officials announced Wednesday, April. 29.

The employee is a bus driver, whose last day of work was April 20. MATA was notified about the employee’s test results on Tuesday, April 28.

Officials with MATA said the employee had been issued personal protective equipment and that disinfecting and deep cleaning procedures have been completed.

MATA’s first positive case, a maintenance worker, was announced on April 9. The public was notified about the second employee case, a bus operator, on April 14 and about the third positive case, a trolley operator, on April 25.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, MATA continues to allow free fares, requires riders to board from rear doors for limited contact with drivers and allows no more than 10 passengers on a fixed route bus or trolley.

MATAplus passengers are only taken to work, medical-related destinations or to get food from a store, restaurant or nonprofit food distribution center.


Health Department investigating clusters at two more long-term care facilities

11:37 AM CT, April 29

Two more facilities have been added to the list of long-term care facilities where the Shelby County Health Department is investigating coronavirus clusters. They are Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation and Quail Ridge Alzheimer’s Care.

According to the Health Department, Quince Nursing and Rehab and Quail Ridge Alzheimer’s Care each have one positive resident.

Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation is located at 6733 Quince Road. Quail Ridge Alzheimer’s Care is located at 2820 Kirby Whitten Parkway in Bartlett.

They join a list of at least 12 where the agency has investigated coronavirus clusters.



Watch today’s COVID Joint Task Force briefing

12:00 PM CT, April 29

Today’s COVID Joint Task Force briefing, scheduled for noon, will feature Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter.

Watch below:


How COVID-19 cases are growing locally and statewide

9:26 AM CT, April 29



Local and state coronavirus cases, tests and recoveries

9:22 AM CT, April 29



Shelby County confirms 45 new coronavirus cases, no deaths

9:25 AM CT, April 29

Shelby County now has 2,403 confirmed coronavirus cases with 46 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Shelby County Health Department.

As of Wednesday, April 29, There have been 1,205 recoveries from coronavirus in Shelby County surpassing the number of active cases (1,152).

The 45 new cases came from an 733 additional tests, according to the health department. The number of new tests reported Tuesday was 449.

In Shelby County, there have been 26,481 total tests taken with a 9.1% positivity rate.

Shelby County reported no new deaths from the virus Wednesday.

Statewide, there are 10,052 cases with 188 deaths as of Tuesday, April 28, according to Tennessee Department of Health.

In Tennessee, the total number of tests taken is 161,928 with a 6.2% positive rate.


April 28, 2020

Increased numbers of cases at The Village at Germantown

7:02 PM CT, April 28

The Village at Germantown has a total of 18 people who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Tuesday evening, the facility reported nine residents and nine staff have tested positive. Four of those residents have died.

The Germantown long-term care facility has about 325 residents.

The facility has increased testing among its employees. As of Friday 42 employees had been tested and half of the tests were negative. At that time only five staff members were positive.


Watch exclusive interview with Shantelle Leatherwood

5:49 PM CT, April 28

Eric Barnes interviews the Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community Health Services.

Watch below:


State will work with Shelby County leaders on reopening plan

3:39 PM CT, April 28

Gov. Bill Lee says he doesn’t believe he will have to step in and ask Shelby County to reopen its economy. He said the Economic Recovery Group is working with Shelby County leaders to determine a time frame and plan for restarting the economy.

”We expect complementary plans over the next few weeks,” he said. “It’s a hypothetical (that I would need to intervene), and I don’t think it will happen.”



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