MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The number of new daily infections in Shelby County is decreasing, but health department officials said Thursday they’re still not comfortable with contact sports taking place locally this fall.
“Over the last few days we’ve averaged 256 reported cases per day, so that is good news for us compared to where we were back in July,” said David Sweat, Chief Epidemiologist. “It shows the force of the epidemic is slowing, and the number of new infections is declining for the first time in several weeks.”
Despite that bright spot, public health officials expressed concern Thursday about a return to contact sports in the county as schools open their doors and many high school teams plan a kickoff to their seasons.
“I just want to make it very clear to you. The health department, the Shelby County Health Department, our position is that we at the moment do not feel that contact sports are safe,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, the county’s health officer.
An executive order in late July by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee permitted fall school-sponsored football and soccer activities to resume, in coordination with TSSAA health standards.
Randolph said Thursday non-school-sponsored sports activities are allowed to continue as well, so long as programs adhere to the governor’s Tennessee Pledge guidelines.
“Because something is legally permitted doesn’t necessarily mean it is medically advised,” he said.
Randolph said he and other public health officials believe there are too many risks associated with contact sports, and they expect additional COVID-19 cases in the county as a result. But he said their hands are tied from stepping in.
“We are not recommending contact sports. However, you do not have to get our approval,” he said. “Our position is that still there is a high risk of transmission of the virus associated with closeness and contact sports by its nature involves close contact.”
Randolph said various sports-affiliated groups have submitted plans to the Shelby County Health Department, but the department is not in a position to shut down sports and is rather advising against them.
The department is offering technical assistance with respect to the plans to suggest how the sports could be carried out more safely, he said.