Health Department outlines steps toward Phase 3

By , Daily Memphian Updated: June 15, 2020 3:02 PM CT | Published: May 19, 2020 3:50 PM CT

Proactive measures are recommended before moving to Phase 3 of the Back to Business plan, Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said Tuesday – a step that could take as much as three more weeks.

The county does not plan to not make a recommendation on advancing to Phase 3 until at least June 8, Haushalter said, but data will be reviewed daily. The decision to move into the first phase and from Phase 1 to Phase 2 was “data-driven” over 14-day spans, Haushalter said.

“There is a significant increase in social interaction in movement from Phase 2 to Phase 3 and even from Phase 1 to Phase 2,” she noted. “Then we have a big holiday (Memorial Day) in the middle of that. We do know the likelihood of the three-day weekend people are going to be more actively engaged with each other.”

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She said the Health Department wants to ensure sufficient time after Memorial Day weekend, to identify any surge to holiday activities.

“We always have the ability to move that day (earlier), but we didn’t want to be misleading in any way.”

She emphasized five areas people can continue to help the county move forward including social distancing and wearing a facial covering.

“If we are going to be successful in opening up our economy and allowing more people together, it will be essential you wear a covering to protect each other as you gather where safe social distancing becomes difficult,” Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said. 

The Health Department has a sufficient supply of masks available at its offices and received a shipment from Gov. Bill Lee’s office Monday.

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“You should wear a mask when you are around other people who are not from within your household,” Haushalter said. 

She encouraged residents think about “intimate social contact and proximity to other people.”

Haushalter said another proactive step is to utilize testing.

“While we have significant capacity for testing in Shelby County, that capacity continues to be underutilized,” Haushalter said. “As of last week we saw as little as 37% of our capacity being utilized. Individuals who are exhibiting any signs and symptoms of COVID – that’s mild flu like symptoms, persistent fever, GI disturbance and also loss of smell or taste – are really encouraged to get tested so they can know if they do have COVID.”

Health care and essential workers are also encouraged to get tested at this time.

Isolating and quarantining are also important to move forward, Haushalter said.

“It’s going to be of significant importance as we continue to move forward and open up in the various phases that we identify cases – those are individuals who are diagnosed with COVID – very quickly, and that those individuals remain isolated for the period of time that they’re infectious to others.”

People exposed to positive coronavirus cases must stay in quarantine for 14 days.

The last proactive measure is protecting vulnerable populations – congregant care facilities, seniors and individuals with illnesses including chronic respiratory problems.

Vulnerable populations include those living in jails. Monday, Shelby County reported five county inmates were tested and one was positive.

Haushalter said the few tests there were due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention early guidelines for testing symptomatic people, but the guidance has changed. In nursing homes and jails there are more cases than the county Department of Corrections, she noted.

“We need to do additional testing at 201 Poplar, and we need to partner with the state to do more testing at nursing homes.”

She said SCDC is in “the queue,” but noted many measures in place limited transmission.

“Focusing on the five areas will be critical to our ability to move into Phase 3,” Haushalter said.

Haushalter also highlighted accomplishments Monday. The additional care facility at 495 Union – the former Commercial Appeal building – was dedicated, although it is not needed at this time. Additionally, a new health directive was issued and Phase 2 began. 

“All of these successes are a testament to all of the work that has been done in Memphis and Shelby County over the past months,” Haushalter said. “Specifically it’s a testament to our commitment to each other, our partnership and our collaboration.”

Monday evening, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution encouraging the Health Department to require the use of masks in public and has incentives for businesses to set heath guidelines. Businesses can be given a “Healthy Shelby Businesses” designation. The resolution was proposed by Commissioner Tami Sawyer.

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“We will be working closely with our local business partners as well as the (Greater Memphis Chamber) to support businesses as they move toward creating healthier environments during this pandemic,” Haushalter said.

Businesses are encouraged to use signage that promotes hand hygiene, sneeze and cough etiquette and facial covering.

In the health directive, masks are strongly recommended for the general public and required for employees. Additionally, it gives businesses the right to require guests and customers to wear masks, Randolph said.

At this time, the Health Department is not requiring face coverings, but strongly encouraging them.

“Dr. Randolph and I will continue to explore the movement from the use of word ‘recommend’ to ‘require,’” Haushalter said. “But as of (Tuesday), our position is that we would prefer to use that stronger language at a time where it is deemed most necessary.”

The County Commission also approved spending $6.4 million of CARES Act funding to expand the Health Department staff. Memphis City Council is reviewing a similar proposal Tuesday.

The expansion adds 141 positions to assist with contact tracing, enforcement and community education. Haushalter said she hopes individuals are local individuals and people can apply on the Health Department’s website.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to train a workforce and prepare people for a public health practice,” Haushalter said. “We are really looking forward to being able to recruit and retain those individuals.”

Haushalter said she hopes to interview, hire and train individuals in the early part of June. The Health Department must also secure housing for that team.

“(Public health capacity) is a critical piece to continue to manage the pandemic and move forward,” she said. 

Volunteers from the community and some city employees were helping the Health Department, but they must return to their jobs and normal duties.

Haushalter hopes for a diverse group of applicants and noted retirees and new graduates could be good candidates. She also encouraged individuals speaking multiple languages to apply.

Haushalter said at this time the department is receiving many questions about specific activities and if they are allowed in the current phase. She expects to give feedback about Memphis in May, which is rescheduled to October, but it is too early at this time.

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Shelby County Health Department Alisa Haushalter Dr. Bruce Randolph Shelby County Commission Tami Sawyer
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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