Health Department: Directives will not change for at least 2 weeks

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 03, 2020 3:02 PM CT | Published: September 03, 2020 12:39 PM CT
<strong>Shelby County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph (shown during a press briefing on April 1)&nbsp;said it will be at least two weeks before any changes are made to the health directives that closed bars and other businesses. &ldquo;The incubation period for this virus is 14 days,&rdquo; Randolph said Thursday, Sept. 3.</strong>&nbsp;(Mark Weber/Daily Memphian file)

Shelby County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph (shown during a press briefing on April 1) said it will be at least two weeks before any changes are made to the health directives that closed bars and other businesses. “The incubation period for this virus is 14 days,” Randolph said Thursday, Sept. 3. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian file)

Even if people behave themselves extraordinarily well this weekend, masking for backyard parties and keeping 12 feet of distance at the University of Memphis football game, it will still be at least two weeks before any changes are made to the health directives that closed bars and other businesses.

“The incubation period for this virus is 14 days,” Shelby County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said Thursday, Sept. 3, at the local COVID task force briefing.

Labor Day, after the upticks following the Fourth of July, will be a key barometer of what Shelby Countians learned and how well they internalized the message.

“This is a very important point in our response (to the pandemic),” Randolph said. “How activities turn out this weekend will determine which direction we go in the future.”

If there is a positive outcome, with low numbers of new cases, “that will let us know we are on the right path, we are doing the right things.”

But in his characteristic candor, he also was clear that life will not return to what it was for some time.

“The days when we would all crowd into bars or crowd into movie theaters, be shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s going to be a while before those types of events take place,” he said. “But we will be able to do some things. We will just have to do them in a safe and sensible way.”

That for the foreseeable future, he said, will include 6 feet of separation, masks and good hand hygiene.

It’s possible, if the numbers continue to decline, he said, the health department would not require all five of the tripwires to be met before it loosens restrictions.

He said the health department would look at trends and make a judgment then, including a possible decision on whether to reopen limited-service restaurants.

“Looking at the numbers, we are making great progress,” he said. “We are not where we want to be, but we are headed there. This weekend, we will be having a football game, Labor Day and we have already started school. (These are) three events that could increase transmission, but could also show the safety measures we have in place work and we do not experience increased numbers ... therefore we could continue to move forward.”

On the U of M football game, he noted that some schools in the American Athletic Conference are not allowing fans.

“We feel we could allow some to attend if they adhere to 12-feet separation and wear masks.”

While the health department does not have authority to monitor what people do in their homes or backyards, it will respond if neighbors complain about crowd size or infractions to distancing rules.

Even if case numbers continue to decline, the 12 feet of separation at games will persist until data suggest otherwise, he said.

Each of the last two days, less than 100 cases have been reported. It’s another sign of improving conditions, David Sweat, epidemiologist in the Shelby County Health Department, said.


Coronavirus: New cases under 100 again, but testing jumps



Coronavirus: New cases below 100, but tests low, too


Shelby County has reported 387 coronavirus deaths. The range is 13 to 100 years old. The median age is 74.

In analysis of the fatality data, underlying comorbidities hyperintensify the risk of death, he said. In Shelby County, 77.8% of the people who have died of COVID-19 had underlying cardiac issues.

“We also saw that 40% of the fatal cases have been diabetic, 25% have had some sort of underlying respiratory condition,” Sweat said.

An analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that only 6% of fatalities had no other disease or risk factor.

“Some people have reached the conclusion from that, that therefore only 6% of COVID deaths were actually caused by COVID, and that is not correct.

“A person with an underlying comorbidity who dies from COVID still died from COVID. Their comorbidity increased their risk of death,” Sweat said.

In Memphis and cities across the nation, minority populations continue to be over-represented, both in contracting the disease and in fatalities: 80% of cases in Shelby County are Black or Latinx residents; they account for 83% of pediatric cases.

In an analysis of the peak that happened in July, people ages 21-30 were the driving force of transmission, “more than any other age group,” Sweat said.

“It’s important to realize as we head into the holiday weekend. We particularly challenge people (aged) 21-30 to be responsible,” he said. “We can get through this together, but we need to work together to do so.”

Active cases in July exceeded 6,000. Thursday, the number was 2,485, a clear sign of progress, he said.

To clarify some public confusion, the health department determines who is quarantined, Randolph said, noting that schools may restrict people from coming to their buildings but they cannot quarantine.

The health department also is the only entity that may release people from quarantine.

Heading into the weekend, his advice was direct.

“I want to just remind people that transmission of the virus can occur in a crowd of three as well as a crowd of 300. And so, whether you’re in a small crowd, or a large, you still need to practice the safety measures we have in place,” he said.

Topics

coronavirus COVID-19 Joint Task Force
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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