Health officials reaffirm stay-at-home orders to ‘starve virus of new hosts’

By Updated: March 26, 2020 9:16 AM CT | Published: March 26, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do. 

Shelby County had 170 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday afternoon, March 25, according to the Shelby County Health Department.

There were 135 confirmed cases Tuesday, with no additions between the health department’s morning update and its 2 p.m. media briefing.


Coronavirus daily blog, March 25: Tennessee up to 784 cases, including 3 deaths


Among the new cases reported were two employees at the Memphis VA Medical Center and two others at Regional One Health.

While data on demographics is still scarce, Alisa Haushalter, head of the Shelby County Health Department, says there is enough to know that people are continuing to go to work sick.

“It’s a critical message because if we’re ill, we’re more likely to transmit the virus and that includes front-line health care workers,” she said.

The battle to slow the spread is happening on several fronts, including maintaining the health of critical workers so that walls don’t break down in health care, firefighting, law enforcement but also in the jails and criminal justice system.

“It’s important that we stop transmission amongst those personnel, but also to the people they serve,” she said. “And lastly, if it’s spreading in those populations, we are going to deplete our workforce.”

Health department data crunchers here say that 74% of the cases in Shelby County are in people 60 and younger; 38% are between 21 and 40. Statewide, nearly half of those who have contracted the disease (386, or 47%) are between the ages of 21-40, according the latest state health department numbers.

“One of the narratives that has been widely spoken throughout this pandemic is the risk to elderly folks and that younger people are less at risk,” said David Sweat, head of epidemiology for the county.

“What our data are showing is that may be true for the worst outcomes. Certainly for fatalities or hospitalizations, the younger population may not be experiencing those outcomes at a high rate, but there’s definitely diagnosis. There’s definitely transmission occurring in younger age groups,” he said.

<strong>Alisa Haushalter</strong>

Alisa Haushalter

The stay-at-home orders issued by both mayors are to “starve the virus of new hosts” with strict social-distancing strategies, he said.

The health department issued its own Wednesday for people not included in the city or county mayors’ stay-at-home orders. With it, all Shelby County residents now are to eliminate nonessential trips from home, including work for people in nonessential businesses.

“I think we have a narrow window,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, health department medical officer.

“If we act together as citizens and people cooperate with what we’re trying to do, we may be able to prevent the overwhelming of our health care system and somewhat blunt the spike we are anticipating with the cases,” Randolph said.

From the data streams starting to flow, public health experts will be able to detect the epidemic’s plateau. They won’t make that determination until they see several weeks of flattened numbers.

“Right now, the increases are catching us up on previously diagnosed people,” Sweat said. “We are not at the point where we’re in real time.”

Key to it are quick turnaround times for labs processing tests so the health department can immediately begin investigating all the people confirmed cases have come in contact with and quarantining those who are at risk.

About 10 people, or roughly 5% of the total confirmed cases here have been hospitalized. Sweat did not have figures on how many were still hospitalized.

Current data shows 80% of patients testing positive recover and “do quite well,” Haushalter said. “About 2% have severe illness from the virus.”

“We’re trying to see how we can work with the hospitals to know every day how many patients they have in-house with a diagnosis or suspected diagnosis,” she said.

That data could include how many are in intensive care or requiring ventilation, which would help health care providers know what to expect as the epidemic worsens, including what kinds of medicines it needs to stockpile for the elderly and people with chronic conditions.

While the situation is alarming, Haushalter said, “it’s not worse than I feared. We can look at other communities and know that there’s a doubling of the number of cases every five to seven days.

“That is what we’ve anticipated. We can look at other communities and know that there’s a doubling of the number of cases every five to seven days so that’s what we’ve anticipated.

“Honestly, I don’t come to work in fear,” she said, noting the army of people working here to stop the spread. “It’s about staying focused on strategy and using data to drive our decisions.

“From my perspective, I’ve been consistent that I think it’ll take two to four incubation cycles to be able to see the impact of some of these interventions. That means 30 to 60 days,” she said, adding that some others differ on that perspective.

“We can look to China and some other countries that have implemented very stringent measures, and it really was about the 60-day mark where they began to see impact based on the decisions that were being made.”

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March

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.


Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.