SCHD: Shelby County COVID-19 case increase influenced by transmission outside the county

Shelby Co. health officials concerned about case growth outside the county

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Health officials said they are dealing with something unique to the pandemic right now compared to the last seven months. As Shelby County numbers go up, they said a lot is influenced by what’s happened outside the county.

When this pandemic first broke out and at its peak in July most of the transmission was happening in Shelby County. Now, the transmission is happening more outside the county but is affecting the case rate and hospitalizations here.

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“If you live anywhere in the Mid-South area you can assume you live in a county that we consider high risk of COVID transmission,” David Sweat with the Shelby County Health Department said.

The latest 24 hour total of COVID-19 cases in Shelby county is 301 between Monday and Tuesday. That is down from the previous count of 404, but well above the daily average of around 200 earlier this month

About 90% of acute care hospital beds are occupied in Shelby County and 89% of ICU beds.

Hospitalization capacity in Shelby County as of Oct. 27, 2020
Hospitalization capacity in Shelby County as of Oct. 27, 2020 (Source: SCHD)

“So anyone can do the math and know our numbers are going up,” said Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter.

While we’ve seen fluctuations in the numbers over the last seven months, Haushalter said this is different than the start of the pandemic and the peak of it this summer.

“What is different now is we have significant transmission in surrounding counties that will influence Shelby County,” Haushalter said.

Haushalter says numbers are growing faster than projected. While over seven months the county has seen more than 36,000 COVID-19 cases, that number could double by the holidays.

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“At the current time we’re estimating those numbers could be that high by the end of November,” said Haushalter.

As for any restrictions coming from this surge, Haushalter said closing businesses won’t do any good if people aren’t staying home when they’re sick.

Ninety percent of Shelby County residents wear masks properly in public, but health officials said at this point more needs to be done.

“If you take away any message from today’s session it’s please if you have any symptoms at all stay home,” said Haushalter.

Haushalter said 70% of the more than 36,000 people who have had COVID-19 in the county since the start of the pandemic have been symptomatic. Still, some of those people are not staying home.

“We do know from our local data that people are symptomatic and continue to go to work,” Haushalter said. “We could shut down a lot of places but that doesn’t make a difference if people continue to go out in public when they’re symptomatic.”

Haushalter said the rising cases in surrounding rural counties are affecting cases and hospitalizations in Shelby County. She said even if a county does not have a mask mandate wear them wherever you are in public, and sometimes when you’re at home or with friends.

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“I want you to think about where else you can wear a mask. Particularly in protecting the most vulnerable,” Haushalter said. “If you’re in a house that is multi-generational you want to wear a mask around your seniors or those who are vulnerable.”

The holidays this year are adding an extra layer of concern for health officials. They said Thanksgiving gatherings often kick off a spike in flu cases. They don’t doubt this year that could mean a spike in COVID cases as well.

“We certainly encourage people to have smaller gatherings,” Sweat said.

While a mask mandate is still in place in Shelby County, one local mayor is asking Governor Bill Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate. Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said he’s made the request to the governor’s staff.

Lee in the past has been adamant that the decision should be up to the individual county.

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