MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As fears about the coronavirus grow across the country, leaders in the Mid-South are getting ready for the possibility of a local or regional outbreak.
They say it's not a matter of "if" but "when."
While no cases have been confirmed in Tennessee, the risk is still there.
Gov. Bill Lee announced the formation of a 15-member state task force to develop emergency response plans and determine how to allocate resources, should the need arise
"As confirmed cases of the coronavirus spread across the country, it is important that Tennessee remains prepared," said Lee. "To help us be even better prepared, this group of experts will work closely with me and my administration, along with local, state, and federal agencies as we continue to monitor any potential developments. I appreciate their willingness to serve our state."
In Shelby County, health department leaders continue efforts to educate the public.
"While we have no cases in Tennessee and we have no cases in Shelby County, our team has been very, very busy for weeks," said Alisa Haushalter, the director of the Shelby County Health Department.
On Wednesday, Haushalter and other health department leaders began what will be a series of weekly press briefings to update the public on their coronavirus response.
"It's likely we could have a case at some point. The key is what we do in the event that there is a case," said Haushalter. "That's why we're pushing information out now."
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says county leaders will brief municipal mayors soon.
If local cases start developing, he says public emergencies like those in California could be declared.
"We have to look at the range of options. I don't think anything is out of the question at this point," said Harris. "I don't want to be alarmist, but I think you are right we are going to look at the range of options."
In a pro-active move, Collierville Schools has created a team to evaluate and develop policies on how to continue teaching students who may be absent for extended periods and determine a process for students to re-enter school after diagnosis.
Shelby County Schools didn't say if it's developing such a plan, but the district said it's sharing information about the coronavirus with parents and students.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also announced a state coronavirus task force to develop emergency response plans should an outbreak develop there.
"There is no higher priority than ensuring the health and safety of all who call Mississippi home. And we are taking this coronavirus threat seriously. We are taking action now—ahead of any confirmed cases—to make sure that we are ready for any scenario. Bringing together our state's leaders and experts puts Mississippi in the best possible position to prepare and improve our response plan and activities," said Reeves.
No cases have been confirmed in Tennessee, Arkansas or Mississippi.
The Shelby County Health Department launched a hotline number for residents with questions: 901-692-7523
Tennessee residents can also get additional information on the Tennessee Department of Health's website.
Arkansas residents who have questions about the coronavirus can call a state call center at 1-800-803-7847 during normal business hours. After normal business hours, those needing immediate response can call 501-661-2136
Mississippi residents with questions can call the state’s coronavirus hotline during normal business hours Monday-Friday at 877-978-6453.