Shelby County averaging 500 COVID-19 cases over past 2 weeks

By , Daily Memphian Updated: December 12, 2020 4:46 PM CT | Published: December 12, 2020 1:54 PM CT

Shelby County is averaging more than 500 new COVID-19 cases a day in the two-week period following the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Health Department data.

Coronavirus hospitalizations in the Memphis area are higher than the same point two weeks ago. Though it’s lower than the 500-plus average of a week prior, according to Tennessee’s Healthcare Resource Tracking System.

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While key coronavirus metrics continue to rise locally, there was some hope offered Friday when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, according to the New York Times. Officials hope once the vaccine becomes distributed in the coming months, current trends will eventually reverse.

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Hospital capacity right now is tightening, however, and health officials remained concerned. With the local case average continuing to rise, hospitalizations are likely to trend back upward in future weeks. COVID-19 deaths in Shelby County are also up from two weeks ago.

From Nov. 28 to Saturday, Dec. 12, the Health Department reported an average of 501 coronavirus cases and 4,493 test results a day with a 11.2% positivity rate.

Two of the five highest daily increases occurred in that period with the high mark of 930 new cases reported Saturday, the highest increase to date. The virus’s surge in Shelby County reflects the one seen nationwide in recent weeks.

<strong>Bruce Randolph</strong>

Bruce Randolph

Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Department health officer, attributed the higher cases numbers to Thanksgiving at a Thursday press briefing.

“It wouldn’t surprise us if our numbers continued to increase,” Randolph said.

It’s also the first two-week period Shelby County is averaging 500 or more cases over a two-week period since The Daily Memphian began analyzing the numbers in March. Even as testing numbers also increased, cases numbers rose even more, leading to a rising positivity rate.

In the previous two-week period from Nov. 14 to Nov. 28, the Health Department reported 391 cases and 4,113 test results a day yielding a 9.5% positivity rate.

Symptoms for coronavirus include, but are not limited to, fever or chills, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Wearing a mask or facial covering, remaining 6 feet apart from other people and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds are several key strategies for slowing the virus’ spread.

If the hospitals are backed up, or they’re beyond capacity, ambulances can’t offload. If you reduce the number of ambulances in the field, you reduce that ‘magical hour’ of getting a person from either an accident scene or from heart attack into the emergency room.

Alisa Haushalter
Shelby County Health Department director

There were 469 COVID-19 patients in Memphis area hospitals as of 5 p.m. Thursday, according to Tennessee’s Healthcare Resource Tracking System. That’s an increase over the 430 reported two weeks prior.

Hospital capacity for acute care beds is at 91% use, and ICU beds are at 93% occupancy. Both are classified in the “red”, meaning its above 90% utilization. Those who are COVID-positive or suspected of having the virus represent 18% of acute care patients and 36% of ICU patients.

<strong>Alisa Haushalter</strong>

Alisa Haushalter

“If the hospitals are backed up, or they’re beyond capacity, ambulances can’t offload,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director, on the impact of hospital capacity strain. “If you reduce the number of ambulances in the field, you reduce that ‘magical hour’ of getting a person from either an accident scene or from heart attack into the emergency room.”

The local health care community is ramping up efforts to finding staffing for the ongoing surge. While there is sufficient bed capacity for now, health officials are concerned about finding enough staff for those beds.

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Overall, the Health Department has reported 54,234 total coronavirus cases and 731 deaths, classifying 49,397 cases as inactive/recovered. Active cases in Shelby County stand at 4,106, an increase from the 3,375 reported Nov. 28.

Since March, a total of 720,247 coronavirus tests have been performed in Shelby County, yielding an 9% positivity rate.

The Health Department has reported 78 coronavirus deaths in the past two weeks, an increase from 49 in the preceding two week period.

Shelby County reports highest daily increase of COVID-19 cases

Of the 731 deaths where race is identified in Shelby County, African Americans continue to die from the virus at a disproportionate rate. They represent 61% of total deaths, while representing 52% of the population, according to Health Department data.

The three highest comorbidities associated with coronavirus deaths in Shelby County are cardiac conditions (54.8%), respiratory condition (32%) and diabetes (30.5%), according to Health Department data.

The transmission of coronavirus locally is also rising. It’s currently 1.11 compared to 1.01 last week, according to COVID Act Now. Any number above one is an indication of community spread.


Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 Alisa Haushalter hospital capacity coronavirus Bruce Randolph positivity rate pfizer vaccine COVID-19 vaccine
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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