Health department asks commission to fund additional forensic staff amid COVID-19 pandemic

Health department asks commission to fund additional forensic staff amid COVID-19 pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter told Shelby County Commissioners on Wednesday that COVID-19 cases in the county appear to be stabilizing or decreasing.

But despite that, she needed to ask for additional funding for morgue space. Modeling suggests the county will hit its peak of hospitalized and critically ill individuals later this year.

“While we are not in panic mode, we want to make sure that we have covered all of our bases, and we’ve talked a lot about hospital capacity and public health capacity. But we haven’t really talked about managing decedents, if necessary,” she said.

Commissioners gave initial approval Wednesday to a $138,414 contract with UTHSC for the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center that runs from July to December. The contract can be renewed for two six-month periods and would pay for added staff.

Haushalter noted other communities have struggled with processing those who’ve passed, as cases surge. A final vote is expected Monday on the measure.

“The surge is still predicted to be in the fall, but the more we blunt the curve, the less that surge will be,” she said.

She said universal masking throughout the county and closing limited-service restaurants have impacted the spread of the virus. The county’s positivity rate is decreasing, and testing capacity is increasing.

“It is reassuring,” she said.

As schools locally reopen, the Tennessee Department of Health had indicated it would not collect data on school-related COVID-19 cases. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said in a news conference Tuesday the state was reversing its position.

“We are working on a plan to infact be able to report school cases. We do want to protect the individual privacy of families and students,” Lee said.

Haushalter said the health department is waiting on further guidance from the state on how to proceed.

“I do think that people are going to want to have information. I know that from the beginning, that people want information. So as much as we are able to release information, we will,” she said.

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