MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - West Tennessee’s rural counties are seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.
In the past 14 days, Fayette county added 257 cases. Tipton county increased its COVID-19 count by 262 and Dyer County saw a whopping 473 new cases.
“Obviously our cases have risen tremendously and it’s very concerning,” said Dyer County Mayor Chris Young.
Young allowed his county’s mask mandate to expire Oct.1. He calls it bad timing considering that same day was the start of the Reelfoot Arts and Craft festival in neighboring Lake county. Based on the festival’s Facebook photos there were big crowds and very few people wearing masks.
“So I can’t contribute all of that to that but that and the schools reopening, ball games stuff like that. Overall just people not taking this seriously,” said Young.
The sudden increase has caught the attention of the White House.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force has put all West Tennessee counties in the red zone due to high COVID-19 cases and positivity rates. For example, Dyer County’s positivity rate is 22%.
“I mean this is a really simple problem to solve and that’s what’s so frustrating. If folks wear masks, all their social contacts, this problem gets dramatically better,” said Dr. Scott Strome, Executive dean of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine and vice-chancellor of Health Affairs.
Strome says hospitalization rates are a better indicator of worrisome COVID-19 trends. And he says when rural counties see increased cases, that can spell bad news for Memphis hospitals.
“You know we live in kind of the junction of a tri-state area and we are the recipients of all those folks so the folks who are positive here in Memphis in our hospital systems really encompass all those areas,” said Strome.
According to the White House coronavirus map, Shelby County is in the yellow zone which is the lowest category. All the counties in Tennessee surrounding it are in red.
Fayette County has 80 people hospitalized according to the Tennessee Department of health’s COVID-19 website. Fayette County has an agreement with Memphis to use the city’s hospitals if needed.
Last week, reports surfaced that the White House sent a memo to Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee mandating that the state implement a statewide mask mandate to slow down the spread. Lee has said he strongly encourages people to wear masks but instead is leaving it up to county mayors to implement their own mask mandates.
“I am leaning towards bringing it back,” said Young.
Wednesday, Young will meet with their county’s task force to decide the next steps.
Fayette County Mayor Rhea “Skip” Taylor said at this time there are no plans to reinstate the county’s mask mandate, but they are keeping a close eye on the numbers.