Six months later: COVID-19 in Shelby County

Six months of COVID-19 in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tuesday marks six months since the Shelby County Health Department announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Shelby County.

A lot has happened since then, including more than 28,000 cases and nearly 400 deaths in Shelby County alone. Shelby County’s case count is higher than any county in Tennessee.

The Shelby County Health Department reports 1,825 active cases of COVID-19.

The pandemic is not over, and it’s unclear if life as we knew it will ever return. But health officials say they’ve learned a lot in these last six months, and business owners have also found a way to survive.

Six months ago, the world as everyone knew it changed.

“We have our first case of Novel Coronavirus in Shelby County,” Alisa Haushalter said.

Haushalter and other officials made that announcement during a hastily called Sunday morning press conference in the lobby of the health department building.

A couple of weeks later, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland issued a safer-at-home order as the case count started to rise.

“Memphians will be required to stay home unless they have an essential business or healthcare needs,” Strickland said.

With businesses forced to close and large events banned, Fabiola Francis' Memphis catering business, Simply Fabulous Catering, which is located at 1353 Jackson Ave., grounded to a halt.

“And then, of course, when the closures started, it was a domino effect,” Francis said.

Ninety percent of her business vanished.

“That’s when fate kicks in,” Francis said. “You go ‘What am I going to do?’”

Thousands of other business owners in the Mid-South found themselves in the same position, as health leaders and elected officials tried to lead through the fog of uncertainty.

Government orders meant to protect people pushed others toward financial ruin.

“Early on, there was obviously a lot of concerns and things changing on a daily basis,” Dr. Ben Bowman, the medical director of the emergency room at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital, said. “I think the fact that we’re now six months into, it’s given you know all of us a sense of reassurance.”

He says the healthcare system and the community have made progress, and the numbers are trending in a positive direction.

“The community has played a big role in this in that they’re practicing the things that have been recommended,” Bowman said. “Social distancing, the masks, I think, have helped get us heading in the right direction. We still have a way to go.”

He says the next six months will be crucial as the country enters flu season.

“But I feel very confident that we’re prepared to handle that,” Bowman said.

Francis shares that optimism.

While she had to let four employees go, she’s been able to keep her catering business afloat with the help of grants, loans, and community support. She says about 30 percent of her business has come back.

She also expanded recently, and now offers stop-and-go lunches.

“I’m optimistic,” Francis said. “Human beings are very resilient. I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’ve noticed that we just bounce back. We bounce back, and I think that things are going to be a little different but better.”

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