Health officials monitoring COVID-19 hotspots to decide when Shelby County should move toward phase two of reopening

Health officials monitoring COVID-19 hotspots to decide when Shelby County should move toward phase

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The COVID-19 task force said Friday the data looks promising for a move to phase two, but no date has been announced.

"We will be looking at it collectively throughout the weekend and anticipate making an announcement on Monday," said Alisa Haushalter, Director of the Shelby County Health Department.

This coming Monday will mark the 14th day of phase one of the county’s Back-to-Business plan.

“We will continue to look at the data. It looks promising at this point,” said Doug McGowen, Chief Operating Officer of the City of Memphis. "We want to make sure that we have a good feel for that data over 14 days of Back to Business phase one.

Leaders said Friday hospitalizations because of COVID-19 have increased but so has testing and hospital capacity. The surge facility at the old Commercial Appeal headquarters on Union Avenue will be complete by midnight, adding 400 beds. Staffing for the facility has not yet been activated.

Phase two would allow groups of up to 50 people and permit nail salons, tattoo parlors and spas to open with capacity restrictions.

"We would like to see more use of face coverings and mask wearing out in public. That is going to be an important part of what we do, especially as we have more people going out into the public," said McGowen.

Three well-known academic physicians put out an editorial in the Daily Memphian on Thursday pleading for people too wear masks in public, writing the majority among us are not practicing "social hygiene."

Decision to move Shelby County into phase 2 of reopening won't come until at least Monday

Dr. Scott Strome, Executive Dean at the UTHSC College of Medicine, is one of the authors and said mask wearing is not optional.

"We are not doing this well. When I drive by a Target, and I walk in and see the majority of people not wearing their masks, that means, by definition almost, that the number of cases are going to rise," he said.

The health department has reported on a hotspot of COVID-19 in the 38118 zipcode, but new statistics released Friday also showed increased positive tests downtown in 38103, in midtown in 38104, and in zipcode 38133 in the Wolfchase area.

Officials said additional hotspots are not a surprise.

“One of the axioms in public health is if you go looking for something you are likely to find it,” said David Sweat, Chief Epidemiologist at the Shelby County Health Department. “And so we have increased our access or utilization of testing in parts of the county that maybe were not being tested heavily before, not necessarily surprising that we found cases in those areas.”

One element that could contribute to the downtown hotspot is the outbreak at 201 Poplar, which the health department continues investigating. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that 151 detainees have tested positive for the virus, along with 59 sheriff’s office personnel in corrections.

Copyright 2020 WMC. All rights reserved.