Mayor extends Phase 2; health official says city’s not ready for Phase 3

By , Daily Memphian Updated: June 02, 2020 4:26 PM CT | Published: June 02, 2020 10:37 AM CT

During the Shelby County Health Department’s coronavirus briefing Tuesday, June 2, Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said the 190 new cases reported Tuesday was the largest increase since April 24.

Health Department outlines steps toward Phase 3

Randolph said the county is not ready for phase 3.

“As things are now, based on the trends that we see now ... I do not think we can move into phase 3 right now.”

Tuesday, Mayor Jim Strickland delayed the phase 3 reopening of the Memphis economy to June 16, adding nearly a week to phase 2.

The positivity rate for COVID-19 is 6.8% with more than 78,000 tests done in Shelby County. Randolph also encouraged wearing masks and face coverings, and suggested wearing masks in public could be mandated down the road if the recent trend of more cases doesn’t reverse.

“Our numbers are increasing,” he said. “We are alarmed about that.”

He encouraged businesses to agree on face masks and covering.

The health department will recognize businesses with face mask requirements and will list them on public health websites to show these businesses are cooperating with the local effort.

“The only tools that we have in order to control and prevent the spread of this virus are separation ... and also controlling the spread of the virus by wearing a covering over the mouth and nose,” he said.

“We don’t want to go back. But we cannot continue to experience increasing numbers,” he said. “So I’m asking that we all join in. Let’s not reverse back. Let’s continue our progress as we move toward opening our economy even more.” 

Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, who updates the media every weekday on the virus, said the decision to delay is “very reasonable.”

“Even getting started in phase 1 after all, was really dependent upon there being fewer cases, adequate health care beds in the area, adequate personal protective equipment and all those things that would allow us to adjust if we did indeed see an uptick in cases because of the reopening and relaxing of the social distancing policy,” Threlkeld said.

“So, if we’re seeing those things happen or as we as we execute those things and we affect the increase in cases, that’s probably not the time to then further open things up,” he said.

On May 15, the positivity rate in Shelby County was 3.4%. It had risen to 9.9% by May 24. Although it was down to around 6% the next day, “that still remains a rise,” Threlkeld said.

Tuesday, there were 37 COVID patients at Baptist-Memphis, including seven in ICU.

Threlkeld also noted the costs of reduced activity are not “benign,” including that childhood vaccination rates are down in some states.

“You trade one virus for ones that may be even more contagious,” he said, noting that measles is infinitely more infectious than coronavirus.

“There’s a cost to be paid for not having things reopen.”

Concerning the increase in new cases, Randolph said the spike is “community transmission in general” and not necessarily related to Memorial Day or specific events. 

In regard to a new mask ordinance the city is considering, Randolph said, “If our numbers continue to increase, we will have no other choice but to mandate that a facial covering would be required of everyone. ... We don’t want to go there yet.”

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says a testing “surge” has begun at the Shelby County Corrections Center. He said it will be one of largest organized testing efforts in the county during the pandemic.

Harris said action was required at 201 Poplar because of the outbreak there. 

Bail reform issues and the removal of nonviolent offenders from incarceration is a “much more complex” issue, he added, and there are no nonviolent offenders jailed at 201 Poplar.

Harris said the county has done more testing than most in Tennessee and in some cities outside the state. Statewide, 6.3% of the population has been tested, while 8% of Shelby County’s population has been tested.

Harris said the pandemic, which he compared to yellow fever, related jobs losses and civil protests “the last 7 days” have made “all of us feel the echoes of 1968. However history has shown that we can do unimaginable things in this community. ... We can turn the page on racial injustice.”

Criminal justice reform is coming, Harris said, and he hopes it is as unified as the pandemic effort.

Harris says he will be at the Shelby County Commission with a voting proposal for felons who have served time.

“To do any of this, I will need help. ... Disrupting the status quo is never easy.” He also specifically mentioned the recent protests. “I hear you. In fact leaders across our state hear you.” He said he will meet with those who want peaceful change.

Shelby County saw an increase of 190 COVID-19 cases from Monday to Tuesday morning, June 2, and an additional four deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities from the virus to 113.

COVID-19 test proves painless and fast

There have been 5,314 positive cases of the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in Shelby County in mid-March. With now 78,104 tests administered, the positivity rate remains at 6.8%, as it was on June 1.

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coronavirus COVID-19 Shelby County Health Department Phase 3 Shelby County Corrections Center 201 Poplar testing inmates Back to Business Phase 2


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