Clusters of infection, testing are concerns as virus spreads

By Updated: April 01, 2020 7:15 PM CT | Published: April 01, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Employees in an East Memphis assisted living facility were being alerted Tuesday afternoon that they may have been exposed.

Six cases have been reported at the assisted living center, including four over the weekend when the Shelby County Health Department began investigating.

Hospital load ‘manageable’ now; surge expected in month

“We are working with that facility to issue their own press release so that the public has access to that information,” said health department director Alisa Haushalter.

By law, the facility must notify residents and employees.

“In an ideal world, they would release that information within 24 to 48 hours,” Haushalter said, noting that the facility had not yet notified all residents and family members.

As soon as the health department was aware of two cases at the center, it began investigating possible transmission.

Over the weekend, the health department conducted 22 tests at the facility; 4 were positive and 14 were negative. Four results are still pending.

The facility has not allowed visitors for several weeks and therefore is not having to trace contacts to guests.

More cases like this are likely to occur, Haushalter said at a Tuesday afternoon briefing on the coronavirus situation.

First totals for local COVID testing show a qualified 10% positivity rate

People who have questions about their own exposure at work should call the Health Department hotline, 833-943-1658.

The health department heat maps show positive test results in widening bands in the community, but largely emanating from the Poplar Corridor and more affluent parts of town where people have been tested because they had insurance, she said.

“There is testing available in other communities, and the numbers there of people tested are low,” she said. “We’re really striving to get the message out for the whole county that if someone has symptoms of COVID-19 or they have been exposed, to avail themselves to testing.”

The heat map now is based on home addresses of the positive cases. Soon, another map will show density based on workplace address, which Haushalter hopes will help people understand how much transmission is happening at work.

With a few exceptions, the home addresses map shows little transmission in North or South Memphis, a point of concern for Dr. Scott Strome, executive dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine here.

Transmission rates set off new level of distancing urgency

“I am incredibly worried about that. First of all, people in those neighborhoods will have less ability to distance themselves,” Strome said. “But the biggest problem I am concerned about is lack of access to care and testing.”

UTHSC is providing free daily testing at Tiger Lane from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. People are screened before  they are seen by texting COVID to (901) 203-5526.

“We know from our prior work, that the underserved, particularly in North and South Memphis, use the Emergency Room much more frequently,” Strome said. “We also know they have a limited number of primary care physicians.”

If they also have limited or no access to the internet and smaller social networks to learn about COVID-19, Strome is concerned significant numbers of people “may not know what to do and frankly may not know a lot about COVID-19.”

Poplar Healthcare now processing tests here

“I am worried this is not being considered as a major risk of illness,” he said.

On Wednesday, UTHSC will begin processing Tiger Lane tests in its own on-campus laboratory, getting test results back in 12-24 hours.

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More than 40% of the positive cases in Shelby County are people between 20 and 40 years old. Nearly a quarter of them are between the ages of 21 and 30, a density of infection that Haushalter has repeatedly said is reason for young people to be serious about their exposure and the likelihood they will take it home to more vulnerable people in their social circles.

Additional overflow hospital systems will open in the county when predictive analytic data show the region has exhausted its hospital bed capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) and needs help from the state, Haushalter said.

The department is working with multiple agencies to ensure there is enough PPE when the expected surge of patients at local hospitals occurs.

You may now text Tiger Lane center for appointment

“The governor’s executive order removed a lot of barriers to staffing and gave full practice authority to nurses, physicians assistants, and it also allows for nurses and physicians and other medical professionals across state lines to work,” she said.

“Staffing is going to be a critical piece of it as well.”

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March


Alisa Haus Shelby County Health Department Dr. Scott Strome
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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