Social distancing measures still recommended through end of May

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 09, 2020 4:58 PM CT | Published: April 09, 2020 4:58 PM CT

A lower curve for the COVID-19 virus and a lower rate of growth locally doesn’t mean social distancing precautions will be lifted anytime soon, according to local health officials.

“Those are very early indicators to us that social distancing is having an impact,” Shelby County Health Dept. director Alisa Haushalter said at Thursday’s COVID-19 task force briefing.

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“I will caution people that we don’t want to lessen or lift the social distancing too early,” she added.

Haushalter’s guidance from the beginning of the pandemic has been to practice social distancing along with isolation and quarantine where applicable for two to four incubation periods for the virus. That would be 30 to 60 days, taking social distancing and no gatherings of groups of 10 or more to the end of May.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has continued the city’s state of civil emergency declaration through April 21 and has indicated he could extend it again if he feels it is warranted.

The declaration includes the closing on nonessential businesses as well as guidelines for social distancing.

City chief operating officer Doug McGowen has also been urging caution about the various models that suggest an earlier end to the pandemic. One model by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, or IHME, was released by the state of Tennessee suggesting an April 15 peak for the virus – four days earlier than other models.

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Since then, that particular model has been questioned and contrasts with daily testing numbers and results that show a positivity rate for Shelby County of about 9% and a disparity in the numbers of African Americans countywide with the virus and who have died from it.

McGowen was quick to point out that the assumption in the Institute modeling was that there was 100% compliance with social distancing precautions. And he cautioned that the optimism in the modeling doesn’t negate the duty of elected officials to tend to the sick before, during and after the peak of the pandemic.

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While social distancing practices have improved, no one watching compliance believes compliance is anywhere close to 100%. That’s based on several yardsticks – cell phone traffic, interstate cameras or calls reporting nonessential businesses as open and park gatherings.

For McGowen, Haushalter and other local leaders, the emphasis has been on Easter Sunday and Passover and abiding by restrictions on gatherings of 10 or more during the two holy seasons in a city where culture is significantly rooted in religion and congregations.

Part of the thinking by public health experts is that if social distancing is ignored for both, all of the gains made in social distancing could be reversed or at least lessened in two to three weeks when symptoms would begin showing up.

Meanwhile, Haushalter said initial guidelines for who needs to be tested and who doesn’t have “evolved” as more is learned about COVID-19, specifically its early onset symptoms.

“It is an evolution based on two things. First, we know more about COVID-19 and the presentation in individuals who are positive for COVID in the United States,” she said. “What we do know is that many people have very 'loud’ symptoms and so we have to determine if those individuals need to be isolated or not.”’

Earlier recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were testing only those who were symptomatic as described by specific symptoms.

“However, what I would say is what those symptoms were were the more severe symptoms,” she said. “We have a better understanding of what those symptoms are. And that category of symptoms has expanded. And now that he have sufficient testing, those individuals should be tested.”

Haushalter said the early symptoms advised to go get a test now include low-grade fever, a mild cough and a headache. For seniors, they are early confusion, an agitated state and diarrhea.

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coronavirus Alisa Haushalter
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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