Shelby County COVID-19 case average, hospitalizations reach new highs

By , Daily Memphian Updated: December 05, 2020 12:22 PM CT | Published: December 05, 2020 12:22 PM CT

As the fall surge continues, Shelby County is averaging more than 400 new cases a day even as tests performed declined in the past two weeks, according to county Health Department data.

The number of coronavirus hospital patients in Memphis-area hospitals also increased by 35% over the past two weeks, according to the latest data available. Acute care and intensive care unit bed capacity are both at more than 90% utilization.

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From Nov. 21 to Dec. 5, the Health Department reported an average of 415 new cases and 3,980 test results a day yielding a 10.4% positivity rate. With cases outgrowing tests, that’s leading to a surging county positivity rate.

“This is really the biggest peak we’ve experienced with the pandemic,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director. “It is a very difficult time of year. Together we can get through this, but it’s going to take each and every one of us to do what we can to reduce not only the transmission of COVID, but the impact of that transmission on our community.”

In the previous two-week period, from Nov. 7 to 21, the Health Department reported 401 new cases and 4,312 tests results each day with 9.3% positivity rate. This is the first period in the pandemic where Shelby County has averaged 400 new cases a day for a 28-period, according to Daily Memphian analysis.

While the Health Department will clarify some language in its latest Health Directive, no further restrictions are on the immediate horizon, said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Department Health Officer.

Shelby County surpasses 50,000 coronavirus cases

Overall, the Health Department has reported 50,470 total coronavirus cases and 696 deaths, classifying 46,323 cases as inactive/recovered. Active cases in Shelby County stand at 3,451, a decline from the 3,755 reported Nov. 21.

Symptoms for coronavirus include, but are not limited to, fever or chills, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Wearing a mask or facial covering, remaining 6 feet apart from other people and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds are several key strategies for slowing the virus’ spread.

Health Department modeling once predicted the county would reach 500 hospitalizations on Christmas Day. Given the recent surge in coronavirus transmission, Shelby County surpassed that figure Nov. 30. Now the median Christmas projection is 583, within a range from 478 to 710.

There were 521 COVID-19 patients in Memphis-area hospitals as of 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, an increase from 385 two weeks earlier, according to Tennessee’s Healthcare Resource Tracking System. With cases continuing to rise, hospitalizations are likely to follow that same trajectory in future days and weeks.

Hospital capacity is also tightening. Acute care bed utilization is at 92% use, while ICU beds are at 93% occupancy. Both are classified in the “red”, meaning above 90% utilization. Those who are COVID-positive or suspected of having the virus represent 20% of acute care patients and 36% of ICU patients.

Hospital data is reflective of facilities in Shelby, Lauderdale and Tipton counties in Tennessee, Crittenden County in Arkansas, and DeSoto County in Mississippi.

While local hospitals have additional surge beds and there is an alternate care facility available for COVID patients if necessary, the challenge of finding staff for those beds remains. Also, with nursing shortages a problem nationwide, Memphis-area hospitals are unlikely to be able to recruit from other cities to assist their local efforts.

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The transmission rate locally remains virtually unchanged this week. It’s currently 1.01 compared to 1.0 last week, according to COVID Act Now. While the rate is similar, any number above one is an indicator of community spread.

Since March, a total of 686,295 coronavirus tests have been performed in Shelby County, yielding an 8.8% positivity rate. The number of people tested for coronavirus countywide is 378,828 with 13.3% of those test results being positive. The numbers differ because some people have been tested more than once.

The Health Department has reported 66 new coronavirus-related deaths in the past 28 days. Of the 696 total deaths in Shelby County, 61% are African American, a disproportionate rate as they represent 52% of the population.

The average age of death from coronavirus countywide is 73 with an age range from 13 to 101, according to Health Department data.


Shelby County Health Department Alisa Haushalter Dr. Bruce Randolph hospital capacity coronavirus COVID-19
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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