COVID-19 spread has slowed in Shelby County but public health officials are watching school, sports activities closely

SCHD preparing for school outbreaks

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County Health Department reported 89 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, the first two-digit increase since June. But some of the good news is tempered by the fact that cases of the virus will likely increase as schools and athletics have resumed.

“We are going to be paying very close attention to school openings and activities and outcomes related to that,” said Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter Tuesday.

As students head back to classrooms within the county and sports take place, officials are keeping their eyes open for potential COVID-19 clusters. Harding Academy announced a transition to virtual learning for its high school after multiple confirmed cases among members of its athletics teams.

Health officials expect more cases as schools, athletics begin

“I would challenge those of you who want to go to a football game this Friday to think ahead of time about how you’re going to social distance when you’re there,” said Haushalter.

The Shelby County Health Department announced last week they advised against contact sports in the county, even though Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee permitted them through executive order.

Officials said testing sites are anticipating increased utilization in the weeks to come. The squeeze on test slots from earlier this summer has slowed, but they believe it’s likely just a temporary reprieve.

Cold and flu season is a couple of months away, and school just started in session. We know demand is possible to increase in the future,” said Jenny Bartlett-Prescott, with Church Health. “We are starting to see cases come out of fall contact sports. Our test sites are aligned and coordinated to pay attention to our capacity.”

Shelby County Joint Task Force gives COVID-19 update

Haushalter said the run on tests earlier this summer was likely because of more illness circulating in the community and people seeking “assurance testing” around the July 4 holiday. While those without symptoms could access testing currently, officials said that is not guaranteed if cases increase.

She added one team of the department’s 141 newly-hired contact tracers will focus exclusively on clusters within schools, with the goal of ordering quick isolation and quarantine when confirmed cases are identified.

“We have been in partnership with the schools. We’ll continue to be in close partnership with the school, and it’s really going to take the schools as well as the health department and families to be able to identify contacts quickly and get them quarantined,” she said.

However, she noted the department would not be releasing specific information on individual cases among children or within the county’s school systems.

“One of our responsibilities in health care and public health is to assure the privacy of individuals. And so at the current time, relative to children in schools, we will not be releasing specific information on children or their school systems,” she said.

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