Health Dept. promises new directive by Monday

By , Daily Memphian Updated: November 19, 2020 5:42 PM CT | Published: November 19, 2020 12:35 PM CT

A new health directive that almost certainly will restrict restaurants, bars and other businesses where people are unmasked is expected Monday but could happen Friday, according to Shelby County Health Department health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph.

While the restrictions are not likely to fully close down businesses, people should expect they will last at least 28 days, which represents two incubation cycles of the virus that has killed 250,000 people in the U.S.

New COVID restrictions coming as numbers rise

Methodist Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is transferring staff to cover rising numbers in the Methodist system; hospitals around the city are warning ambulance crews that there may be delays in admitting patients.

Thursday morning, the Centers for Disease Control recommended no travel for Thanksgiving.

“In order to make a significant impact in terms of the transmission or the mitigation of the transmission of this virus, you need at least two incubation periods to see real, true effects,” Randolph said.

He did not give a specific timeline.

The tripwires the Health Department issued in Directive No. 14 in early August indicate the economy would need to be restricted when the seven-day new cases average hit 450. As of Thursday, it was 443. Waiting to see if the numbers abate would be counterproductive, Randolph said.

“It is our opinion that things are at a point where we need to take some action,” he said. “Now, the action may not be what is outlined in accordance to the tripwires. It may be something less than that. But indeed, we must act now because if we wait too long, then the numbers will be even worse.”

The message to business owners, Randolph said, is that the Health Department understands clearly the economic impact on business owners, and the loss of sales tax to governments, “but we also want you to understand and appreciate the impact of not wearing the mask, not adhering to the health directives, not limiting the crowds, not keeping people from gathering and the impact that is having on the health of our citizens.

“The reality is that a healthy community is the community that also will thrive economically. They are tied in,” Randolph said.

The message, with increasing urgency as the holidays approach, includes masking at home whenever people from outside the household are there.

Can COVID-19 pod testing save the holidays?

The city is also launching pod testing, which allows family members to get home test kits for $5 a person before a holiday. 

The testing is not foolproof. It may not detect new virus.

The City of Memphis is hosting mass testing events this weekend ahead of Thanksgiving on Nov. 26. On Saturday, Nov. 21, sites will be open at the Shelby County Schools administration building, 160 S. Hollywood; the Lamar Inspection Station, 1720 RKS Commercial Cove; the Appling Inspection Station, 2355 Appling City Cove; and Poplar Healthcare, 3495 Hacks Cross Road.

On Sunday, Nov. 22, the sites will include Poplar Healthcare and both inspection stations. More details are here.

Current coronavirus cases

The county has had a total of 44,222 cases, which include 624 deaths and the 389 cases reported Thursday. A total of 12,032 people are in isolation or quarantine in the county.

The case positivity rate is 12.6%, indicating high spread and low participation in testing. The mortality rate is 1.4%.

In Shelby County, like counties everywhere, deaths are most frequent in those 55 and older. That age range accounts for 86% of the deaths here. And underlying conditions add troubling statistics: in 81% of the deaths, people had cardiac conditions; 21% were obese; and 45% had diabetes or a combination of those factors.

Like elsewhere, the disease is taking an outsized toll on communities of color. Black people in Shelby County represent more than 60% of the fatalities.

But 67% of all cases are in people ages 18-54, who may feel little or no effect, but take the disease home to older or more vulnerable people in their families.

“Younger people are getting infected and older people are dying and that’s the problem. You can bring the virus home to your loved ones, to your mother, your father, your grandparents. If they get infected, they are the ones likely to die.”

Dr. Bruce Randolph

“At this stage, we must mask up,” he said, “so we can remain open. Because we have got to something. The choices are we do nothing and just let things ride out or you go and close things down. We’re trying to find some in-between.”

COVID-19 vaccine

Shelby County expects to receive preliminary supplies of the vaccine in early to mid-December. Preliminarily, the supplies will go to larger hospitals, who will be in charge of ensuring that patients most at risk and health care workers receive the first doses. 

Emergency medical personnel and other frontline workers with high exposure will also be covered in this first release. Those next in line will include teachers, day care workers and other vulnerable populations. Eventually, the general population will be eligible.

The COVID-19 vaccine would be given in two doses, 21 days apart. The onus will be on people signing up to receive it. National polls show only about half the population says it will.

“Uptake is very important. Just having a vaccine sitting on the shelf does not do us much good,” Randolph said.

It will be up to the Health Department to mount educational campaigns. 

“We must have information related to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” he said. “As soon as we get all that information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), our job would be to disseminate this information and provide the assurance and comfort that it is indeed safe.”

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coronavirus Shelby County Health Department
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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