Health officials speak on local positivity rate, school reopenings

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 30, 2020 7:37 PM CT | Published: July 30, 2020 3:48 PM CT

Shelby County reported its highest daily rate of positive COVID-19 cases Thursday, but county health leaders cautioned against overreacting to the trend in a single day of data.

Meanwhile, at a Thursday afternoon press conference, Dr. Jon McCullers, infectious disease expert at UTHSC and pediatrician in chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, also encouraged parents and school districts to make the best individual choices when deciding on virtual or in-person learning this school year.

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He added due to high levels of community transmission, there is no “good answer” on the subject of school reopenings locally.

“Some schools may be better able to deal with virtual learning better than others, some may be better prepared to have in-person learning, because of the facilities,” McCullers said. “On the parental side, some parents may be better equipped for virtual learning, and some may need to send their kids to school because of issues childcare, need for nutrition and so on.”

<strong>Jon McCullers</strong>

Jon McCullers

A higher than normal percentage of positive cases, questions about reopening schools and opinions on contact sports were the focus of Thursday’s 30-minute session lead by McCullers and Alisha Haushalter, director of the county Health Department.

Another 326 new coronavirus cases from 610 tests were reported in Shelby County on Thursday, a daily positivity rate of 53.4%. By far the highest single daily rate in this pandemic. For comparison, the previous high was 18.4% on July 23.

The 610 test results reported is the lowest since the health department reported 450 COVID-19 tests on April 28.

Haushalter reiterated Thursday’s report consisted of results from multiple days. On July 21, local officials said people should only get tested if they have symptoms or been exposed, due to testing sites and labs approaching capacity in Shelby County.

Daily positivity rate spikes with newly reported tests

“My point is to not look at the day-to-day positivity rate,” Haushalter said. “We want to look at positivity rate over time, usually over a week and compare that to previous weeks whether it’s trending up or down.”

A total of 197,546 coronavirus tests were administered resulting in a 10.3% overall positivity rate.

In total, Shelby County reported 20,382 coronavirus cases, 273 deaths and 14,904 recoveries, according to Health Department data.

The number of active cases is 5,205, a decrease from 5,402 reported on Wednesday. The 14-day new case average per day in Shelby County is 365.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 9% of acute care beds are available in Memphis area hospitals, according to the state’s Health Resource Tracking System. For local intensive care unit beds, 12% remain available.

Statewide, Gov. Bill Lee announced this week he would issue Executive Order No. 55, that would allow full-contact practice for high school sports to resume.

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McCullers and Haushalter both said they will wait until reviewing Lee’s executive order before issuing a formal statement.

McCullers did say that, as a pediatrician and because of high community transmission, he does not believe it’s safe to resume contact sports like football.

“What level of transmission we need in the community for that to be safe, I can’t really speak to,” McCullers said. “But we don’t believe it’s safe at this time from the LeBonheur perspective.”


Dr Jon McCullers Alisa Haushalter Shelby County Health Department coronavirus COVID-19 testing
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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