This entranceway into Baptist Memorial Hospital East reflects the ongoing need to take precautions in the fight against the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

With the 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases reported at 344, Tuesday’s count registered 211 — a significant dip that does not mean the virus is under control, Shelby County Health Department officials said.

There were 244 reported COVID-19 deaths as of Tuesday; no increase from the day before.

Tuesday’s 14-day average was up from 339 on Monday. The seven-day average of new cases is 346, falling from Monday’s 416.

Access to testing and test results have exacerbated the county’s inability to manage community spread, according to Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter.

Before the mandatory mask-wearing ordinance, only about 51 percent overall were complying to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to wear masks.

Racial demographics of masks-wearers also were released. Among Asians, 91 percent wear masks; 53 percent of African Americans wear masks and 51 percent of Caucasians wear masks. Only about 34 percent of Hispanics wear masks.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said the COVID-19 Joint Task Force believes that the numbers prove the effectiveness of “masking up.”

In areas of Shelby County where low transmission numbers are reported, 58 percent of Shelby County residents are wearing masks. In high-transmission areas, only 46 percent were found to be wearing masks.

“We have done a lot of work pertaining to masking up,” he said, “but we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

A mandatory ordinance by the City of Memphis requires that masks must be worn while in a public space.

“The numbers show that before the ordinance, only 39 percent of young people between ages 19-24 (wore masks), compared to 64 percent of those over the age of 55,” Harris said. “So young people, you’ve got to come on and get with it.”

Statistics were compiled from observation evidence sponsored by the Health Department and the University of Memphis. Post-mandate statistics will be shared when they are available.

Because both testing and the reporting of test results have gained a longer wait time, Haushalter said employers are being asked not to require testing of their employees without cause.

“We’re also asking physicians not to refer anyone, who is asymptomatic, to a testing site,” Haushalter said. “Priority is being given to those who have been showing symptoms of coronavirus, and those who know that they have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

As it stands, only about 7,000 tests each week are available.