SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County is averaging about 300 new COVID-19 cases a day. On Tuesday, the new 24-hour case count was at 691.
While officials at the Shelby County Health Department said the situation is very serious here, they said the staggeringly high case total we saw on Tuesday reflects several days of tests combined as the state is catching up on transferring test data.
In July Shelby County saw its highest daily case count at 700. Health officials said that large number reflected a backlog of test results. It’s a similar situation for Tuesday’s case count of 691.
“The Tennessee Department of Health has been trying to catch up with some data transmission following some software updates to the system,” said David Sweat with the Shelby County Health Department.
Sweat said the transmission rate has been above one percent for weeks, meaning people infected with COVID-19 will likely give it to one or more people.
He said through interviews with people who have been infected the Health Department believes a third of those infected did not isolate. Sweat said there has been a steady increase in cases in school students since October.
“These outbreaks and clusters of transmission in school-aged children are very heavily driven by extracurricular activities,” Sweat said.
It’s the same situation outside Shelby County too, as cases and hospitalizations surge in the rural counties.
“A month ago we had about 67 hospitalized patients,” said VP and CCO of West Tennessee Healthcare Amy Garner. “Today we’re well over 100. I think 122.”
Garner said the group’s hospitals serve 18 west Tennessee counties outside of Shelby, Tipton and Fayette counties. Garner said since the start of the pandemic West Tennessee Healthcare has seen 15% of the state’s patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
It’s that surge in cases in rural areas that some Shelby County mayors have asked Governor Bill Lee to enact a statewide mask mandate. Lee has yet to do that and is leaving it up to county mayors.
Health officials are looking to the holiday season. They said if precautious are not taken there’s a chance hospitalizations could increase even more by Christmas.
While health officials want your gathering to be small and with those in your household people will be traveling around the region and country as the holidays get closer. Memphis International Airport expects Thanksgiving travel to be its busiest time since the pandemic started.
“In the pandemic environment we will see some reduction probably in the nature of 50-55%,” President of CEO of Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority Scott Brockman said.
That still means thousands of people will go through the Memphis International Airport over the Thanksgiving travel season. Fewer flights and fewer seats on flights cut down on the number of travelers, but if you are traveling this holiday season expect to have to wear a mask and follow best practices during this pandemic.
“You will notice social distancing markers on the floor to remind you,” said Brockman. “We obviously have cleaning staff that are active throughout the building.”
“I’m asking you to postpone your gatherings to next year,” Brownsville Mayor Bill Rawls said.
On Tuesday at the Memphis Shelby County Joint COVID-19 Task Force, Brownsville Mayor Bill Rawls spoke about the surge in the rural communities. He said he knows from experience following a case increase after the Fourth of July holiday that special occasions can be detrimental to fighting the virus.
“Three weeks later Haywood County had the largest number of daily cases in the state of Tennessee,” said Rawls. “There’s nothing worse to being not cautious at Thanksgiving then have hospitalizations of loved ones during Christmas.”
Shelby County health officials are also recommending only small gatherings with those in your household. The concern is many gatherings are inside with family members who may be vulnerable like the elderly.
However, they’re hoping people in Shelby County echo their actions over Halloween.
“By and large people in Shelby County did follow the recommendations and have a safer Halloween,” said Sweat.
The Centers for Disease Control updated its recommendations for the holidays, and they look a lot like those local recommendations. Keep gatherings small and only with those in your immediate household.