Haushalter: Health Department hiring can call attention to public health’s role

By Updated: May 20, 2020 12:49 PM CT | Published: May 20, 2020 12:20 PM CT

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland started the COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing with a recap of how he would use the $113.6 million in federal CARES funding, including $8.7 million on contact tracing for the Shelby County Health Department, starting with $2.7 million approved for immediate use. It was approved by the Council Tuesday.

Forty city employees have been doing contact tracing for the last six  weeks on temporary assignment. The funding is to hire people for those positions at least until the end of the calendar year.

Director Alisa Haushalter said hiring at the health department can call attention to public health’s role.

On hiring more at the health department, Haushalter said the national recommendation is 250 contact tracers. 

”We could always use more,” she said of the 141 employees that just over $8 million in combined city and county funding will allow to hire.

With the expansion, she said they will have specific strike teams for nursing homes and prisons or jails, with expertise in each area.

She said the task force is reviewing the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines released today.

On Phase 2 of the Back to Business plan, Strickland said it was made possible by social distancing practices. 

”Just because we’ve seen progress over the last few weeks ... it doesn’t mean that those great practices that have been habits to us go out the window,” he said.

He used a basketball analogy that likens social distancing to lay-ups and free throws and invokes “The Last Dance” documentary.

Strickland is a huge basketball fan.

”If we want to win the championship we must make our layups and our free throws,” he said.

There are 128 new cases today from yesterday and Haushalter said they are looking to see if the bump is due to nursing homes or linked to Mother’s Day weekend which was within the incubation period of about two weeks.

Another plug to go get tested. They have the capacity and tests.

Haushalter said there is significant lab capacity locally for ramp up of testing. They also rely on the state lab, especially for outbreak testing.

Duplication rate of cases is now at 26 days, almost a month,  and nationally it has been at about five days. Positivity rate is back up to around 9%.

Haushalter said duplication rate isn’t a specific goal. 

”We want to get as far away as we can from the five-day duplication rate,” she said. 

Replication rate is calculated in a number of ways and that is a different indicator.

On face masks: “We do know that face masks make a difference,” she says of different measures that help with replication and duplication rates.

Replication rate is 1 to 1, but “kind of bouncing up a little bit,” Haushalter said. 

There is no guidance on how often people should be tested. 

”We’re still really at the early part of the pandemic in the United States,” she said.

They are still trying to get a baseline on who is asymptomatic and overall scope of virus.

On the Tennessee Black Caucus recommending not sharing addresses at testing to prevent sharing with law enforcement: Haushalter said it’s their right as elected officials. But it’s important to isolate and quarantine, and the more information in public health, the better they can enforce isolation. 

She said the phone number is critical, as well as email. The address is also critical to protect first responders. 

”This information is not being shared widely,” she said. “We want them to be protected ... But also there is limited (personal protective equipment) across the country.”

Haushalter’s advice for Memorial Day weekend: “If you are sick, stay home.” And don’t feel obligated socially.

On sharing food, Haushalter said it’s not the food itself. 

”It’s really about the use of utensils and other things,” Haushalter said. “You really don’t want to be touching the things that other people have touched.”

She also cautioned against the handle of water pitchers and for now that people might want to consider going back to disposable items.

On Memorial Day weekend, Strickland said “courtesy crews” will be out as usual in city parks. “The vast majority of people agree to comply,” he said.

Haushalter said on opioid spikes in cases, that there are places for Narcan, the reversal drug for overdoses. Also Hepatitis A testing at sites on the health department website.


Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland Alisa Haushalter Shelby County Health Department Back to Business
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

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

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