Sharp increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations stalls phase 3 of Shelby Co. reopening

Increase in hospitalizations puts pause on move to phase 3 of reopening plan

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Physicians on the area's COVID-19 task force said the increase in hospitalizations was the main reason the county did not move to phase three of reopening as intended Monday.

The decision also came amid concern over how the virus is spreading, with evidence it is being passed more in the community and less in clusters like nursing homes.

Monday, Shelby County logged 256 cases of COVID-19, the largest day-to-day increase since the pandemic started. That was followed by an additional 198 case increase on Tuesday.

Memphis/Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force meeting -- June 16

"When we see the cases going up at an exponential rate, then we need to take a pause and then reset," said Dr. Manoj Jain, a member of the city-county COVID-19 task force.

A new report out Tuesday from Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine is also sounding the alarm on the virus in Memphis.

The report shows a sharp increase in Memphis area hospitalizations in the past week and says with higher transmission in the Memphis area the situation “bears close monitoring.”

“We are seeing much younger people coming into the hospital,” said Dr. Jon McCullers, Dean of Clinical Affairs at UTHSC. “Many of them in their 20s or 30s who do not have any health conditions or comorbidities. This is very worrisome, because it’s different than the pattern we are seeing and suggests it is truly from community spread.”

Memphis, Shelby County stalled at phase 2

McCullers said the strain on existing hospital capacity in the area is an emerging concern.

"As we begin to fill up with COVID cases, it becomes more and more difficult to manage, and as that starts to inch up, I think we will see some gaps in our healthcare system and issues within our healthcare," he said.

The move to phase three was delayed indefinitely Monday, as case counts and hospitalizations increase.

"We do remain in phase two of the Back to Business plan and anticipate being in phase two for some time to come," said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, Director, Shelby County Health Department.

Leaders Tuesday said they’ve not relaxed capacity restrictions on restaurants, which still stand at 50%, but rather emphasized that 6 feet of separation among groups diners should be the priority.

Patrons can now be seated at bar areas but are not allowed to stand.

“I think the 6 feet distance between groups of customers is really what drives who can be in the restaurant,” said McCullers. “If proper social distancing etiquette is carried out, if people wear masks, if employees wear masks, it’s safe to go out at a restaurant right now.”

Officials at the health department said the task force is prioritizing how to ensure that people can get back to work safely and how to get children back in school in the fall safely.

For now, members of the task force continue to preach the importance of social distancing, hand washing, staying home when ill, getting tested and wearing a facial covering in public.

“It’s my belief that the only way we are going to see these numbers going back down, the hospitalizations going back down, is that we have much more responsible use of masking within the public,” said McCullers.

Read more coronavirus coverage here

Copyright 2020 WMC. All rights reserved.