The Investigators: The number health officials are watching as businesses reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Investigators: The number health officials are watching as businesses reopen amid pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County officials said Wednesday that there is a flattening the curve even as the number of COVID-19 cases grows.

However, health officials are watching another number to help determine if or when we’ll enter Phase 2 of Shelby County’s Back-to-Business Plan.

Before businesses can fully reopen, and for those that have partially opened to stay that way, Shelby County says, in part, it needs to see the percentage of positive tests stay flat or go down over a 14-day period.

The number of cases in Shelby County continues to grow, which is expected because the more testing you do the more cases you will find.

When looking at the percentage of positive tests, health officials will compare the amount of tests taken with the amount of tests that are positive. They will then look for the rate to be about the same.

For example, if you test 100 people and get 10 positives, when you test 1,000 people you should get 100 positive tests. There are more cases but the percentage, 10%, stays flat.

As of Wednesday, Shelby County had an 8.37% positive test rate. That’s down from Sunday when it was 9.1%.

Both numbers fall into the range you want to see, said infectious disease doctor Steve Threlkeld.

“Five to ten percent needs to be the goal to shoot for in terms of those positive tests at the very highest,” he said.

As for flattening the curve, this is what our COVID-19 graph shows that for the Greater Memphis area, including Crittenden and DeSoto counties.

Seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases
Seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases (Source: WMC Action News 5)

“It’s more of a plateau. We really have blunted the curve so we may not see a big decrease in cases,” said Dr. Threlkeld. “We may just see a plateau or that level to stay stabilized in days coming ahead.”

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Health Department once predicted that the county would hit its peak in May.

In a press conference Wednesday, the Shelby County Health Department director said that’s no longer the case.

“We continue to push that surge further out,” said Dr. Alisa Haushalter. “I can tell you that the data team is crunching those numbers as we speak.”

According to Dr. Haushalter, recent calculations show a possible surge in June or July but that the surge can be flattened by mitigating measures like using face masks and social distancing.

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