Shelby County not moving to Phase 3 as cases, hospitalizations rise

By  and , Daily Memphian Updated: June 15, 2020 4:21 PM CT | Published: June 15, 2020 12:06 PM CT

Amid a rising number of new coronavirus cases and all-time high hospitalizations, Shelby County officials announced Monday that they are delaying a move to the third phase of reopening for businesses.

Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, said in an update during a Monday afternoon press conference, that the county and its cities are staying in Phase 2 of the “Back to Business” plan for now.

Shelby County coronavirus cases increase by more than 250

“We all have our part to play to reduce the impact of COVID- 19 on our community,” she said. “We had all hoped to move into Phase 3. Clearly, that is not prudent at the current time.

“If we had moved forward, we (would) likely have more damage economically and socially.”

Haushalter would not commit to a date for moving to Phase 3, reiterating that decisions will be “data-driven” as much as possible. She said the county’s suburban municipalities are in agreement on the delay and some of those communities began releasing statements shortly after the announcement on pausing the move.

“While we share the community’s disappointment in this announcement, it is absolutely critical that we all do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo said in a statement. “We all have to do our part by continuing to follow the advice of our local health officials if we want to move forward with our reopening plan.”

The number of cases is one factor the Health Department uses to determine moving forward

“We have an upward trend,” Haushalter said. “ We have not leveled at a new normal. We know our cases are continuing to incline.”

The decision follows Monday’s highest single-day count of new confirmed COVID cases – 256 –since the pandemic began in mid-March. That number followed several weeks in which the new case count rose some days to more than 100 cases.

Health Department officials said the rise got their attention last week, but also said it could have been a “new normal” on the way to an expected September surge, or peak of cases, in the Memphis area.

Testing capacity is another metric reviewed for moving forward. Haushalter has repeatedly noted there is “sufficient capacity” that is “underutilized.”

Additionally, the department said the number of hospitalizations is concerning. Previously, most hospitalizations were linked to outbreaks in nursing homes and clusters. Haushalter said that is no longer the case. 

“Those being admitted to the hospital represent our community more broadly, which is another sign we have broader community transmission that we need to get a handle on,” she said. 

Haushalter noted the reproductive rate is higher than the county would like. She also noted in the last few days, health leaders showed concern about the number of hospitalizations.

The department also looks at its public health capacity, and contract tracing has been an issue for Shelby County Health Department. When people come into contact with a positive case, the Health Department reaches out to individuals and asks them to quarantine. 

Currently about 80% of cases are closed, but Haushalter said their goal is 90%. She attributed the issue partially to people not calling the Health Department back and therefore contributing to community spread.

“We’ll be doing a lot more home visits,” she noted.

Haushalter said all those metrics helped contribute to the decision to remain in Phase 2. But Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman worried people will be less likely to follow guidelines the longer Phase 2 lasts.

“My biggest fear with all this is that people are willing to follow the rules as long as they feel there are goals and an end in sight,” he said. “If there’s not progress being made, I think people are reluctant to follow the rules ... I’m concerned as people find out today and tomorrow enforcement is going to be a real struggle.”

Like all of the people at the Monday afternoon press conference, Haushalter emphasized that people needed to concentrate on the three methods of curbing the spread – wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds. 

 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

The Monday announcement is the second extension of Phase 2, which was originally supposed to end June 8 with the beginning of Phase 3. The second phase was extended to June 15.

Shelby County records highest coronavirus case total

Phase 3 allows more restaurants and retail to go to an occupancy rate of 75% of their space. Additionally, festivals and parades are permitted.

“We must be diligent about slowing the spread of COVID-19 to continue re-opening our community, but more importantly, to continue protecting our community,” Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said.


COVID reopening Shelby County Health Department Back to Business

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Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.

Bill Dries

Bill Dries

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


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