Officials search for ‘testing czar’ to increase availability of COVID-19 testing in Shelby County

Officials search for ‘testing czar’ to increase availability of COVID-19 testing in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Public health officials said Thursday the roughly 400 new cases daily over the past week appears to be a “stabilization” of cases, which is a positive development. However, they noted they are expecting more cases as school resumes in August.

“We are averaging around 400 new cases a day. That’s still a significant number, but it has stabilized. And it has been fairly stable for the last week to ten days,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director.

Officials on the task force said they’re looking for a “testing czar” as capacity locally is expected to be strained. This week they announced community testing capacity has been prioritized to those who are sick or are a close contact to a positive case.

Duties for the “czar” would include looking toward new types of testing and helping labs resolve supply chain issues, that are delaying results.

“We really need somebody who can step forward, lean into this, and wake up everyday thinking nothing but testing and how we manage those things,” said Doug McGowen, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Memphis.

The group also came with a message for employers, telling them to stop asking those who’ve been out ill to get a negative test result to come back.

Haushalter said new guidance suggests sick people must remain isolated for 10 days and be symptom free for 1 day without medication. If those standards are met they’re cleared. Officials said asking a once-ill employee to obtain a negative test takes away testing capacity from symptomatic individuals who need it.

“We do know many employers are requiring employees to be tested to return to work. there is no recommendation that an individual be tested to return to work,” said Haushalter.

Shelby County Commissioners will vote Monday on final approval to create a Shelby County Board of Health. The board could contain up to 6 health professionals and a citizen representative along with the county health officer and health department director.

Board actions could have teeth. The resolution setting up the board notes that rules and regulations adopted by the board would “supersede less stringent or conflicting local ordinances.”

“It is to some degree to remove politics. But essentially the authority of the health department is designed to do that,” said Haushalter. “It’s not an attempt to isolate health. It’s really to have more input from diverse opinions.”

Copyright 2020 WMC. All rights reserved.