The parking lot outside the Hickory Ridge Mall was the venue last week as members of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department and the Memphis Police Department teamed up to feed the needy as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on. (Photo: Earl Stanback)

COVID-19 cases in Shelby County are not slowing and officials fear the fall festival/Halloween season could worsen the situation, the county’s COVID-19 Task Force reported Tuesday (Oct. 13).

Officials Tuesday reported 347 new COVID-19 cases for a cumulative total of cases of 33,481. The jump in the number of new cases was the largest the Health Department has reported since Aug. 8.

No new deaths from COVID-19 complications were reported Tuesday. A total of 537 people in Shelby County have died of complications from the virus.

“The fall wave of the pandemic is here,” said Dr. David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department. “This brings our county total to 33,481, with 1.6 percent fatality rate. That totals 537 deaths.”

The increase in daily cases follows the national trend, but Health Department officials are watching data points before considering imposing tighter directives.

“The rise in cases was predicted, but it is not destined in Shelby County,” Sweat said. “It is our choice. Personal choices and personal behavior are accounting for the surge in new cases, but it does not have to be our fate.”

Sweat said clusters are breaking out all over Shelby County, but the most active over the past two weeks has been the northeast quadrant of the county: Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, Millington and outlying areas.

Large gatherings without masks or social distancing were cited as causes for rural outbreaks of coronavirus.

Health Directive 14 has been issued for schools just as Collierville announced that middle school students in-person classes will resume in November.

“Health Directive 14 states that the best practice is for schools to have everyone wear masks all day and social distance six feet whenever possible,” Sweat said. “These are only best practice recommendations because it is not the Health Department’s purview to say what goes on in the schools.”

Sweat said other hotspots have been identified in surrounding rural counties, namely Haywood, Tipton and DeSoto. Health officials say there are 1,700 active cases in Shelby County and more than 6,800 people are in quarantine.

There is some trepidation about the upcoming fall festival/Halloween season, said Sweat. The Health Department is expected to issue directives this week for a safe observance of Halloween.

“We just want to say that higher COVID-19 numbers do not have to be our fate,” Sweat said. “It is our decision. It is our personal choice.

“Wear a mask in public, social distance at least six feet, wash hands thoroughly and frequently. These are the things we can do to bring our new cases back down and control spread as we go into the winter months.”