MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Hospital capacity in the region is trending better Friday, with acute care utilization at 90 percent and ICU bed utilization at 86 percent. But those on the COVID-19 task force said they're monitoring reported burnout among healthcare workers.
"I think this is a nationwide issue," said Dr. Jeff Warren.
Dr. Jeff Warren is a physician, Memphis City Council member, and member of the joint COVID-19 task force. He said Friday local hospitals and their personnel are strained because COVID-19 makes everything harder.
On top of people infected with the virus, hospitals are still dealing with heart attacks, traumas, strokes and more.
“It’s more work, same number of people,” he said. “And until the numbers actually start to decline it looks like you are walking up the hill and the stone rolling back down again.”
The Shelby County Health Department said the daily case count appears to have stabilized around 400 new cases per day, and Dr. Warren says transmission also appears to be slowing.
The city's mask ordinance went into effect in late June, and the health department mandated masks county-wide a week later in early July.
“The effect of the masking and people buying in and doing it is lowering the rate, just like it did when we stayed at home,” he said. “We were beginning to see that huge steep curve where it’s headed up exponentially. It’s slowing down now.”
The task force is also prioritizing community testing to those with symptoms or those that are a close contact to a positive case. Dr. Warren said with lab backlogs and testing supply shortages there's really no other choice.
“You have to change your plans based on where you are, and that’s what is going on now,” he said. “Where we are right now, we need to test people who are sick, and we need to test people who have been exposed to see if they’re going to become sick.”
Dr. Warren told WMC Action News 5 that the testing strategy is really targeting those who are at most risk of being infectious.
He reiterated that employers should not require an additional negative test for someone to return to work. He said he has a patient who was ill and has antibodies but still tested positive, even though that patient is not infectious.
The Shelby County Health Department said Thursday that schools in the county should have six feet of distance between students, not three to six feet as has been suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Collierville schools said Friday it's revising its plan.
"The the issue is the spread from kids to other people," said Dr. Jeff Warren, on the city county COVID-19 task force.
New guidance out from the CDC notes "the best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children."
Dr. Jeff Warren said, while true, the virus can still kill children and find its way to the adults around them.
"The issue you've got is the people who are teaching the kids are the ones at risk, the ones who are working in the cafeteria, who are cleaning up the place, the administration of the place," he said.
Officials said this week they expect school re-openings to lead to additional cases.
"We do anticipate as we go back to school, we are likely to see cases in our community," said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director.
Meantime a proposal to create a Shelby County Board of Health has hit a snag. Commission Chairman Mark Billingsley said Friday he was withdrawing his sponsorship after hearing community concerns.
The board, appointed by the county mayor, could create health regulations that supersede local ordinances.
"I think it's really important we communicate with all municipalities in Shelby County, get their feedback, and then see how we move forward and if we move forward with a health department board," said Billingsley.
Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman told WMC Action News 5 that he didn't know about the proposal even though it got a committee vote Wednesday. But he said he believes the board could improve communication between the health department and all the county's municipalities.
Wissman noted the health department already has authority to act on health-related issues county-wide.
“I wasn’t aware of the board being proposed until late yesterday,” he said. “Anyway we can make it more transparent and streamline it, it’s going to be better for all of us.”
Commissioner Van Turner, who is a sponsor of the proposal, said the board creation could be voted on Monday and amended to be more suitable to the county's municipalities.
We inquired with the Shelby County Health Department for comment on the issues surrounding the proposal but did not receive a response.