Shelby Co. health officials study waste water for coronavirus clues

Shelby Co. health officials study waste water for coronavirus clues

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Friday the Shelby County Health Department reported 264 new COVID-19 cases, continuing a slight decrease in daily case numbers.

We have also learned that the Shelby County COVID-19 task force is using local waste water to find where new cases might soon be popping up.

Whenever you flush, you’re sending critical information to infectious disease specialists fighting the COVID-19 epidemic in Shelby County.

In the past month, the City of Memphis has started studying waste water, sending samples of fecal matter to a lab where it’s tested for the presence of COVID-19.

“Take samples, pool it together and check how much virus is in that waste water,” Dr. Steve Threlkeld, Infectious Disease Specialist from Baptist Memorial Hospital, said. “As it shoots up, that can be a predictor that you’ll see increased number of cases shortly there after sometimes a day or two after.”

Initial waste water tests conducted by the City of Memphis show a higher presence of the coronavirus in the southern part of the city.

“You can get right down to the waste water coming from individual areas where a nursing home or two gets thrown into the sewage line, you can test that right there,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

COVID-19 numbers slightly improving in Shelby County

Friday, the Shelby County Health Department reported the sixth day in a row of less than 300 new COVID-19 cases -- a drop compared to previous weeks.

The positivity rate of tests lowered from 15.8% two weeks ago to 15.3% last week, but Dr. Threlkeld says the numbers have to get much better for him to get excited.

“You’ll have to forgive me for not going overboard with glowing optimism based on a short time of at least plateauing and maybe going down a bit,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “The cases are down a bit but the testing is down.”

The Shelby County COVID-19 task force believes the mask mandate and closing bars has helped lower the spread.

Dr. Threlkeld says there is still a long fight ahead.

“But one thing is extremely clear, it is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator when we’re trying to do things to stop this virus,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

The hospitalization capacity for intensive care units across Shelby County currently sits at 92 percent, which is in the red, and 31% of those beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Steve Threlkeld says as we get closer to winter, he would like that number to be lower to avoid overextending the hospital system.

“That’s not an unusual thing. What is bothersome is that it’s the summer time and we’re here now with those kinds of levels and when you look forward to school starting to maybe increases in this infection, we hope not, but maybe,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “And then of course the expected increase in the flu which always brings these numbers up in the winter time, that’s when you could get into a problem. That’s why we’re stressing this so far, we’re going to be stressing a very big push for flu vaccines.”

Dr. Threlkeld says everyone in Shelby County need to continue being extremely vigilant wearing masks, socially distancing and washing hands for the COVID-19 numbers to continue to improve.

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