Local testing reaches record high as positive rate declines

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 13, 2020 9:42 AM CT | Published: May 11, 2020 11:47 AM CT

Shelby County reported its highest daily total of new tests Monday as plans to expand testing continue to progress, according to data from the county Health Department.

More importantly, increased testing efforts have resulted in a lower positivity rate countywide – another indicator the pandemic is stabilizing locally. Even with the increased testing, the number of positive tests remained under 100.

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Shelby County confirmed 1,843 tests Monday, its highest in a single day. The previous high was 1,650 new test results reported Thursday. The county reported at least 1,400 tests in four of the past five days with Saturday’s total (616) being the outlier.

In recent weeks, testing sites have expanded with businesses like Kroger and Walgreens conducting drive-thru tests in addition to existing sites such as Tiger Lane. Essential front-line workers are now tested at no cost, including asymptomatic patients – a rarity among testing sites to this point.

“We’ve done exceptionally well (on testing) in Shelby County, and that is because of the significant partnerships with a variety of agencies locally, ” said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director. “As well as our health care systems, the state and National Guard.” 

The goal is to test 2,400 people a day, more than the double of the county’s original goal of 1,000. 

Of the 1,843 tests in Monday’s report, 85 cases were positive, or about 4.6%. Monday’s data helped lower the positivity rate to 7.8%. For context, on April 27, the positivity rate in Shelby County was 9.2%. The large increase in testing has not coincided with a higher positivity rate.

Haushalter attributed the positivity rate decline to expanded testing throughout all parts of the county, and the importance of the positivity rate falling below 10%.

“Generally, if you have a positivity rate less than 10%, you have a smaller amount of community transmission,” Haushalter said. “I always compare to New York, because their positivity rate even with expanded testing was between 20% to 25%. That means there is a lot of transmission happening in the community at large.”

One consistent trend in the past couple of weeks is a higher number of tests leads to a higher number of cases, and the same can be largely said for the reverse. That’s led to a declining positivity rate despite the day-to-day fluctuation of new cases and testing numbers.

County health department statistics showed 3,315 coronavirus cases, 68 deaths and 1,921 recoveries, as of Monday.

Memphis and Shelby County have completed the first week of Phase 1 Back to Business plan. For Phase 2 of the local reopening schedule to go into effect, public health and elected officials want a 14-day downward trend or leveling in new cases, stable hospitalization numbers, increased testing capacity and contact tracing.

A decision on whether Memphis and Shelby County moves to Phase 2, remains in Phase 1 or even more restrictions are implemented is likely to come later this week.

Haushalter said “we’re moving in the right direction” in terms of flattening the curve and stabilization of cases. She also noted hospitalizations has increased slightly as more people have sought medical care for the virus. 

“That’s a testament to people cooperating with social distancing and that’s a message we want to continue to get out there,” she said. 

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he’s learned from health care officials they will have to wait the full two week period before truly knowing if a decline or stabilization is occurring since Phase 1 began. 

“If there has been an increase in transmission as a result of loosening restrictions or people’s actions, it would only occur nine, 10, 11, 12 days after that,” Strickland said. “The end of this week, the data is really going to be scrutinized.”

Shelby County reported one new death from the virus Monday afternoon as the total rises to 68. The virus’s mortality rate locally is 2%, nationally that number is closer to 6%.

On local hospital capacity, the number of coronavirus patients in local hospitals is 95, according to the state’s Health Resource Tracking System.

There are 49 coronavirus patients in acute care and 66 additional patients under investigation for the virus housed in acute care. In the intensive care unit, 46 patients are positive for coronavirus with another 22 people under investigation for the virus in ICU.

Shelby County hospital acute care beds are at 58% occupancy of surge capacity, while ICU beds are at 48% occupancy, according to the data. Ventilators are at 35% capacity with 242 currently in use.

Social distancing measures were put in place to not only slow the virus, but not overwhelm local hospitals. The goal by limiting the spread is for hospitals to serve all non-coronavirus and coronavirus patients at any time during the pandemic.

Recovery numbers from the virus continue to increase countywide. The number of recoveries (1,921) remain well ahead of the active case count (1,327).

Of the 2,377 cases where race is known, African American represent 68% of cases, whites 22.6% and “other races” 9.4%. An additional 736 cases are classified on race as “missing/unknown.”

Statewide, Tennessee reported 14,958 coronavirus cases, 243 deaths and 7,528 recoveries, as of Sunday, according to the state department of health. Tennessee’s test total is now 261,869.


COVID-19 testing Shelby County Health Department Tennessee Department of Health coronavirus
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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