Local case rate stabilized over past month as testing jumped

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 13, 2020 1:18 PM CT | Published: May 13, 2020 11:20 AM CT
<strong>Christ Community Health Services held drive-thru testing for COVID-19 in Whitehaven on April 13.&nbsp;The rate of local COVID-19 cases stabilized over the past month with increased testing and steadily declining positivity rate, according to Shelby County Health Department data.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Christ Community Health Services held drive-thru testing for COVID-19 in Whitehaven on April 13. The rate of local COVID-19 cases stabilized over the past month with increased testing and steadily declining positivity rate, according to Shelby County Health Department data. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

The rate of local COVID-19 cases has stabilized over the past month with increased testing and steadily declining positivity rate, according to Shelby County Health Department data.

These are several factors elected and public health officials are considering when deciding whether Memphis and Shelby County should expand the reopening plan in the coming weeks.


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One potential concerning trend, however, is a rising death toll from the virus. On Monday morning, Shelby County reported 67 deaths from the virus. By Wednesday, that number had reached 76.

From April 30 to Wednesday, Shelby County confirmed about 70 new cases a day with 1,214 tests reported each day. That equates to 5.8% of positive cases, and the longest span where the county averaged more than 1,000 tests a day.

That compares to the preceding two-week period when the county averaged 64 new cases a day with 773 new tests a day. This resulted in an 8.3% positivity rate, not surprising given the case rate was similar and testing much lower during that period. The data showed increased testing does not necessarily lead to an immediate spike in new cases or a higher positivity rate.

Currently, Shelby County’s positivity rate is 7.7%, a drop of 1.3% since April 29, when the percentage was 9%. While it’s an encouraging decrease with more testing, the pool of tested patients widened during this recent two-week period –including more asymptomatic patients.

“Our hope is that as we do more testing, we will find that the positivity rate and the prevalence of this virus may not be as great as we initially thought,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Department health officer. 

County health department data shows 3,462 coronavirus cases, 76 deaths and 2,025 recoveries as of Wednesday. The number of tests administered is 45,118.

On Wednesday, Shelby County reported 41 new cases and 1,212 additional test results – a 3.8% positivity rate. 

Memphis and Shelby County are in the ninth day of Phase 1 in the Back to Business plan. That’s important to note, because local data for the remainder of the week likely will reflect how well Shelby County did in terms of slowing the virus’ spread since social distancing requirements were relaxed May 4.

“If there has been an increase in transmission as a result of loosening restrictions or people’s actions, it would only occur nine, 10, 11, 12 days after that,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said previously. “The end of this week, the data is really going to be scrutinized.”

For Phase 2 of the local reopening schedule to go into effect, public health and elected officials want a 14-day downward trend or leveling in new cases, stable hospitalization numbers, increased testing capacity and contact tracing. The decision on whether to move to Phase 2 could occur at the end of this week.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris explained why raw case count numbers are solely not part of the reopening process at a press briefing Wednesday. 

“We will continue to see cases in Shelby County for the forseeable future,” Harris said. “Because we can’t control our borders. There is no practical way to shut down the borders around Shelby County. You can expect just because of the numbers of tests and people will travel from community to community there will be some level of confirmed cases for the forseeable future. Raw count is not an indicator of success. The better indicator of success is things like positivity rate and so forth.” 

About 118 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized locally, according to Strickland’s daily update Tuesday. That’s a slight increase from the 113 hospitalized with symptoms on April 29, according to health department data. The number of patients in the intensive care units has consistently remained around 50 with about 52 patients in ICU with the virus.

Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director, noted Monday the slight increase in hospitalizations in this recent period as more people have sought medical care for the virus. 

Randolph said the return of elective procedures contributed to decreasing hospital capacity. Construction is underway for an alternative care hospital for coronavirus patients at 495 Union Ave., former home of The Commercial Appeal. 

“People have to recover after having these procedures,” he said Wednesday. “We’re not terribly alarmed. We feel that we still have the capacity to adequately respond to any surge occurs in the near or distant future.” 

Statewide, Tennessee reported 16,111 coronavirus cases, 264 deaths and 8,336 recoveries, according to the state department of health. Tennessee confirmed 283,924 confirmed tests administered to this point.

 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

Topics

coronavirus COVID-19 testing Shelby County Health Department Tennessee Department of Health
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Binghampton, Frayser, North Memphis and Raleigh for The Daily Memphian. Omer previously covered county government. He is also a former reporter at The Jackson Sun and a University of Memphis graduate.


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