Shelby County’s COVID-19 positivity rate near 10% for past month

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 12, 2020 7:30 PM CT | Published: September 12, 2020 1:59 PM CT

Shelby County’s COVID-19 positivity rate remained stable around 10% this past month, even as new coronavirus cases and test results dropped off in recent weeks.

Memphis-area hospital capacity tightened slightly during this period, even though the number of COVID-19 patients continues to decline, according to Tennessee’s Health Resource Tracking System.

From Aug. 29 to Saturday, Sept. 12, the Shelby County Health Department reported an average of 116 new cases and 1,173 test results a day with a 9.9% positivity rate. Shelby County reported 200 or more cases only twice in this period, with the highest single-day total being the 221 cases recorded Aug. 29.

Coronavirus cases stable in city but rising in suburbs, rural areas

Doug McGowen, city of Memphis chief operating officer, said actions like the countywide mask mandate are making an impact, but more work is required to slow the virus’ spread.

“It’s working, but we are clearly not out of the woods yet,” McGowen said. “We have to stay the course in order to get our positivity rate into the single digits and to get our case rate down to the low double digits and single digits as we move forward.”

Coronavirus test results reported in Shelby County over the past two weeks are down by more than 50% compared to July, when the average was well over 2,000 a day. Even with declines in testing, enough is occurring to detect where the virus is spreading more rapidly, Shelby County Health Department epidemiologist David Sweat said.

Those latest test results show new COVID-19 cases are dropping inside the I-240 loop as transmission is increasing in the suburbs – including Germantown, Bartlett, Millington and Collierville, Sweat said at a Thursday briefing.

“We are beginning to see that there is an increase in the positivity rates compared to previous months,” Sweat said.

While there is no specific reason for the uptick in COVID-19 cases in those areas, Sweat attributed the change to people becoming more lax regarding the proper safety measures, which makes it easier for the virus to spread.

In the preceding two-week period, from Aug. 8 to 22, Shelby County reported an average of 176 new cases and 1,709 test reports a day, yielding a 10.3% positivity rate. The spike in new cases (and tests reported) began to drop off significantly during early to mid-August and continued into September.

Overall, Shelby County has reported 28,890 coronavirus cases, 415 deaths and 27,063 inactive cases/recoveries, as of Saturday.

Shelby County reports five more COVID-19 deaths, 136 new cases

A total of 269,963 COVID-19 tests have been performed in Shelby County, with a 10.7% positivity rate.

The number of active cases in Shelby County is 1,412, less than half of the 2,893 reported on Aug. 29.

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.

Of the 415 deaths reported, 25% are attributed to outbreaks or clusters in nursing homes. African Americans also represent 60% of deaths – an overrepresentation, since they make up 52% of the county’s population.

That overrepresentation also applies to total COVID-19 cases: African Americans and Latinos represent about 80% of cases while making up 60% of the population. 

The age range of coronavirus fatalities is 13 to 100 with a median age of 74. The two most common comorbidities in COVID-19 patients are cardiac conditions (78.2%) and/or diabetes (40.6%).

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, 89% of ICU beds and 90% of acute care beds were occupied, according to the latest hospital data. On Aug. 29, 86% of ICU beds and 88% of acute care beds were being used.

However, over that same two-week period, the number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals decreased from 237 to 193.

The infection rate in Shelby County continues to remain below 1, currently at 0.87, according to COVID Act Now. That means each COVID-19 patient is infecting less than one other person – an encouraging sign that community transmission is decreasing.

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


David Sweat Doug McGowen coronavirus Shelby County Health Department hospital capacity
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.


Want to comment on our stories or respond to others? Join the conversation by subscribing now. Only paid subscribers can add their thoughts or upvote/downvote comments. Our commenting policy can be viewed here