Health officials fear opening Memphis alternative care site as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise

Health experts concerned Shelby Co. alternative care facility will be needed

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Monday we learned the president of the Memphis Restaurant Association met with the Shelby County Health Department, as public health officials look to add targeted enforcement at bars and restaurants to slow spread of COVID-19.

The Shelby County Health Department did not release a new health directive Monday, but officials have indicated one would likely be coming this week, while COVID-19 cases locally have surged and the daily positivity rate has grown too.

"I think you're going to see interventions in the bar and restaurant industry," said Dr. Jeff Warren, a member of the city-county COVID-19 task force, and a member of the Memphis City Council.

Warren said barbers, beauty and nail salons have largely performed well in phase two, but the same can't be said for food and drink establishments and many members of the public at large.

Health officials could add more enforcement at bars, restaurants

“Too many people said no problem, we’re done,” said Warren. “Places that have not been doing a good job are bars and restaurants. They’ve not really been enforcing social distancing well. No one is masking there in an appropriate way. We’re in big trouble there. That’s a big spreader.”

Ernie Mellor, the president of the Memphis Restaurant Association, told WMC Action News 5 he was part of a Monday meeting with the Shelby County Health Department. But Mellor said he didn't want to formally comment on the specifics discussed in the meeting, other than to say the association is working with public health officials.

“Everybody is concerned about what we’re looking at,” said Warren. “We’re concerned about the disease problem, but we’re also concerned about the economy.”

The county’s daily positivity rate, or percentage of positive tests, has been increasing along with daily case counts. Public health officials have said the number needs to be below 10% to consider the virus under control.

While the overall rate since the start of the pandemic is 8.4%, Friday’s rate was nearly 13%, Sunday’s was 16%, and Monday came in at 13.2%.

Gov. Bill Lee visits alternative care site in Memphis

"Right now, it's blowing up. We've got to do something to get it down," said Warren, "It's community spread. It's really out there with a lot of people, and everywhere you go, you have to assume that you can be infected."

Warren said with case numbers and hospitalizations on the rise, it’s looking more likely the alternative care facility on Union Avenue will have to be activated by the state at some point.

Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist, told reporters Monday that he noticed a steep rise in admissions over the weekend, signaling more growth in family clusters.

Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Steve Threlkeld -- July 6

“Over the weekend, we had a large number of admissions for COVID-19, some of which had to go to the intensive care unit,” he said. ”Something concerning is we are seeing people being admitted to the hospital saying it’s not just me. My spouse has it, and several people in my family have it. So, it’s a very different feel than when we first encountered this thing.”

The COVID-19 task force is expected to hold its next media briefing Tuesday afternoon where implications for the increased community spread of the virus will be discussed.

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