Public health officials continue to push mask-wearing following record-breaking COVID-19 case increases

Shelby Country Health Department not planning to move back into phase 1

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Public health officials said Tuesday the upticks in COVID-19 cases locally are not from Memorial Day or protests but rather from the move to phase two and the public easing up on mask-wearing.

“We all have to just realize that masking is going to be part of our lives for some time to come,” said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director.

The Shelby County Health Department said because of increasing case counts, the COVID 19 task force has decided to remain in phase two indefinitely. That comes despite calls from some elected leaders like Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer to move back to phase one.

Shelby County to remain in phase 2

“We are continuing to stay in phase two, and we believe we will be in phase two for the unforeseeable future, because we are continuing to have community transmission,” she said. “Now we are seeing spread in communities through social events in communities.”

A lot has taken place since health officials briefed the public and media on camera. Over the weekend, 385 positive COVID-19 tests were reported Saturday, the largest day-to-day increase to date.

Haushalter said while initially alarming, the reports represent a surge in testing on June 15 and June 16, as well as a bottleneck at one lab.

“We know that there was somewhat of a backlog at one of the laboratories, which resulted in the Saturday reporting that we had test dates for over 19 different days,” she said.

LIVE: Memphis/Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force meeting -- June 23

Haushalter also said more cases are popping up in 25 to 45-year-olds.

"These are individuals contracting it through their social and work circles, so these are things to pay attention to," she said.

At this point, public health officials said they are not altering the specifications of phase two, but they reserve the right to do so.

A move to phase one is still possible, Haushalter cautioned, if public health and hospital capacity becomes overwhelmed by skyrocketing cases.

Shelby County Commissioners approved Monday night a lease for an office space near I-240 and Millbranch. That's where the Shelby County Health Department's COVID-19 unit, comprised of 141 employees, will be housed.

Haushalter said they are still looking for about two dozen contact tracers. Those interested can find the job posting listed again on the county website and apply.

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