County to remain in Phase 2 for ‘unforeseeable future’ as cases rise

By , Daily Memphian Updated: June 24, 2020 7:45 PM CT | Published: June 24, 2020 12:24 PM CT

New COVID-19 cases continue to rise locally as testing numbers leveled off over the past month, according to Shelby County Health Department data.

From June 10 to Wednesday, June 24, Shelby County averaged 155 new cases and 1,614 tests results a day with a 9.4% positivity rate. In that span, the county reported at least 100 new cases 11 times and the three highest day-over-day increases to date. The record increase was 385 new cases reported Saturday, June 20.

Memphis and Shelby County moving into Phase 2 of the Back to Business Plan is the biggest factor in the virus’s recent spread, said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director. She also cited a decrease in mask usage and warmer weather as contributors during a June 23 press briefing.

Recent spike in COVID-19 cases not linked to protests or Memorial Day

“We are continuing to stay in Phase 2 and we believe that we’ll be in Phase 2 for the unforeseeable future,” Haushalter said. “Because we’re continuing to have community transmission and it’s critical that each of us do our part to reduce the transmission of COVID in our community.”

From May 27 to June 10, the county reported a daily average of 117 new cases and 1,636 tests a day with a 7.2% positive rate. At the time, the county reported its two highest single-day increases in this time frame, with 190 new cases June 2 and 192 additional cases June 9. Those record highs were since surpassed over the past 10 days.

While current COVID-19 testing numbers locally surpassed the originally goal of 1,000 a day, it’s fallen quite short of the 2,400 a day. This is even as testing capacity continues to expand throughout the county, and specifically minority communities.

Public health and government officials have urged citizens at recent press briefings and through media to avail themselves of testing as testing locations for both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients increase.

Another 191 new cases were reported by the Health Department Wednesday, June 24. The positivity rate of 1,342 tests results was 14.2%. That’s well above the 10% benchmark public health officials want to see, and another indicator community transmission of the virus is increasing.

Shelby County coronavirus cases rise by nearly 200

Shelby County reported 8,394 coronavirus cases, 167 deaths and 5,798 recoveries, according to Health Department data. The number of active cases stands at 2,429.

A total of 113,279 COVID-19 tests were administered countywide with 7.4% coming back positive. The next countywide COVID-19 task force briefing is scheduled for Thursday, June 25.

Before reconsidering a move to Phase 3, public health experts and county mayors want a 14-day downward trend or leveling in new cases, stable hospitalization numbers, increased testing capacity and contact tracing. Memphis and Shelby County moved into Phase 2 of its Back to Business plan May 18.

Of the 167 deaths, 68 are from outbreaks or clusters at nursing home facilities. There are also 150 deaths where race is known, with African Americans making up 60% of deaths, a slight over-representation of deaths as they represent 54% of Shelby County’s population.

As of Monday, 216 COVID-19 patients are in local hospitals. The number of hospitalizations reached record highs over the past week and a half, and also played a part in the move to remain in Phase 2.

It’s also the shift in coronavirus patients that’s concerning public health experts. It is no longer solely the elderly in hospitals, as the highest range of new cases is from ages 25 to 45, according to Haushalter.

Citizens are encouraged by health experts to social distance, wear facial coverings and wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer to slow the virus’s spread.

The Memphis City Council passed a mask mandate ordinance Tuesday, June 16. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has yet to sign the ordinance as he’s still working through what enforcement of the mask mandate looks like.

Council member Dr. Jeff Warren, who sponsored the ordinance, said it would create more urgency for the overall effort to encourage Memphians to wear the mask. The goal, by his standards, isn’t 100% compliance but what he believes is a more realistic 60% compliance.

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Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 testing coronavirus Alisa Haushalter Back to Business
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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