Coronavirus cases stable in city but rising in suburbs, rural areas

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 10, 2020 6:18 PM CT | Published: September 10, 2020 12:56 PM CT
<strong>Shelby County Health Department Chief of Epidemiology David Sweat (right) gives an update about the coronavirus on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 during a COVID-19 Task Force briefing</strong>. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

Shelby County Health Department Chief of Epidemiology David Sweat (right) gives an update about the coronavirus on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 during a COVID-19 Task Force briefing. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

As cases fall inside the I-240 Loop, they are increasing in other parts of the county in an east and northerly swoop that includes Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett and Millington, the health department said Thursday in the Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force briefing.

“We are beginning to see that there is an increase in the positivity rates compared to previous months,” said David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department.

The amount of testing, while down significantly from previous weeks, is adequate enough to show how the virus is moving in communities, he said.

And while there is no specific reason why cases are up in the suburbs, any relaxation in safety measures, including masking, “makes it possible for the virus to find hosts more easily,” Sweat said.

The disease spread first through areas of high population and now is fanning out into less-populated areas, including West Tennessee and nationally across the Midwestern states.

“All of the counties in West Tennessee are showing evidence of active transmission in rural areas,” he said.

After six months of living with the virus, the health department worries that complacency is setting in and people are being more lax with masking, hand washing, distancing and breaking their own rules about attending large gatherings.

Concern continues about how cases in schools are reported. Wednesday, the state rolled out its website, or dashboard, where people can check individual school districts for the number of cases. The data is reported to the state Department of Education by public school districts.

State’s new COVID-19 reporting site shows 756 cases in K-12 schools

But no one is reporting data on private schools, which leaves tens of thousands of parents in Shelby County without any public information on the number of cases in their children’s schools.

“Once again, we are not planning to publish a specific school district dashboard,” Sweat said.

“There’s lots of overlapping school districts. The important thing is the number of children in a community that are testing positive, regardless of which district or system them may participate in.”

In six months of COVID-19, the number of cases has risen to 400 a day and fallen to 100 now, said City of Memphis Chief Administrative Officer Doug McGowen.

“Hospitalizations have gone from 400 a day to 200. What we are doing is working, but we are clearly not out of the woods yet. Actions we have taken haven’t come without impact to our community, we know that.”

Current coronavirus statistics

Shelby County has 28,652 cases, up 105 from Wednesday, and 405 deaths. The median age of death is 74. Full range of death is 13-100. There are 1,572 active cases in the county right now, which were diagnosed in the last 14 days. The weekly positivity rate is 11.5%.

There are 2,707 pediatric cases have been diagnosed, which is 9.5% of the total. Sweat said officials will continue to monitor for upticks now that schools are open.


Sixty-three percent of positive cases are under age 45.

“COVID-19 is attacking young adults to a greater degree, but poses greater risk to those over 55,” Sweat said.

Sweat said that 41% of fatalities have had diabetes, 19% were obese, 28% had a respiratory condition of some type and 78% have had a cardiac issue, which could be hypertension.

Sweat said there are 9,500 available test appointments every week, so people with any symptoms should get tested. He also said turnaround time at labs is “very short” now, less than a two-day turnaround for all labs in Shelby County.

When asked about the underutilization of testing and potential for missed cases, Sweat said Shelby County is averaging 1,500-1,600 tests reported per day, with a little over 100 of those being positive. He said the Health Department calculates positivity rate by specimen collection date.

“How concerned are we?” he said. “We want to make sure investments that have been made to create infrastructure for testing are used by the citizens.”

For a second time this week, Wednesday’s test numbers reported by the local health department were incomplete.

Tuesday, Sweat said it was a glitch in reporting. Thursday, he described the situation more thoroughly, saying test results are flowing into the health department all day. 

“We are constantly getting data on lab reports,” he said. “For updating the website, that is data pulled at a specific time. Some labs seem to transmit positive data first and then negative data afterward.”

If the health department pulls numbers between the batches, “it may look like there’s a spike in the positivity rate. But remember, we do not calculate positivity rates based on the report date. ... We calculate positivity based on the what day the specimen was obtained, not the day it came into the health department.

“It’s impossible to capture an accurate number in constantly flowing data river,” he said. “It’s going to be an estimated number based on specific moment in time.

When asked about a return to athletics for Shelby County Schools, health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said the Health Department’s stance remains the same: that close-contact sports is a high-risk activity it is not encouraging “at this time.”


McGowen mentioned three COVID-19 relief programs for individuals.

MIFA has a grant program with the City of Memphis; $3.5 million to deliver services for rent, mortgage and utility assistance. Go to to apply.

For people not able to work, visit to apply for a grant of up to $300.

And, through ArtsMemphis, artists not able to work can apply for grants up to $1,000.

There are also business stabilization grants for $10,000-$20,000 for businesses affected by the pandemic.

Dorcas Young Griffin, Shelby County director of Community Services, said the federal government established a temporary halt on evictions for people with loss of income due to the pandemic. 

Any rent or fees owed during this time, she said, will not go away.

“They will still be there January 2021.” 

Young Griffin encouraged all tenants to pay what they can and to access resources including the eviction settlement fund to help stabilize themselves. Visit for more information.

“We have had an increase in people needing help with utility assistance,” she said. “Memphis Light Gas & Water has extended the moratorium of cutoffs, it ends Sept. 14. Make arrangements with MLGW to pay a portion. They want to work with you to ensure we can keep the lights on.”

She said people can contact MIFA and the Shelby County Community Services Agency at

Young Griffin said they recognized this has been a heavy burden for everyone and mentioned that there is a state-funded emotional support line. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week people can be connected to a counselor: 1-844-507-0144.

The health department is also creating packets to help people celebrate Halloween and other fall festivals safely.

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


coronavirus Doug McGowen COVID-19 Joint Task Force Dorcas Young Griffin Dr. Bruce Randolph
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 business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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