The Pay It Forward Mid-South campaign runs through January 30, 2021. During this timeframe, all donations to the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund will be directed to agencies supporting hospitality and service industry workers who lose employment, or whose work hours and pay are decreased, because of the health directive.

At Tuesday’s (Dec. 22) COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing, officials talked about new cases, projected deaths and a new safer-at-home Health Department directive that carries a fine for businesses that violate it.

The virus-related numbers remain grim and health officials said aggressive measures are needed now to save lives and slow the transmission of the virus over the next two months. Officials here and nationally are especially worried about another surge because of people getting together over the holiday season.

The Health Department reported 905 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and three new deaths, bringing the virus-related death toll to 821 for the year. That brings Shelby County totals to 62,334 (6,929 active cases and 54,584 inactive cases) and 821 deaths this year.

“The Safer at Home Health Order 16 issued on Monday will be in force over the next four weeks,” said Health Department official Dr. Bruce Randolph. “Dining in is restricted to 25 percent capacity. Retail, grocery stores and gyms must operate at 50 percent capacity. More aggressive action was necessary to save lives.”

Health officials said the trajectory of probable deaths in the next two months with no action taken could result in 1,000 additional deaths from Dec. 18 to Feb. 18.

While the safer at home directive does not completely shut businesses, there is a strong reliance on “individual responsibility.”

“We asking that everyone continue wearing masks in public at all times unless eating or drinking, and stay six feet apart,” said Randolph. “We are also asking that things like recreations, receptions and parties be curtailed. 

“Employers are being asked when possible to have employees work from home, or stagger them so that everyone is not there at the same time.”

Thanks to an ordinance passed Monday by the Shelby County Commission, the health department can now fine a business $50 per violation of the new health directive.

Randolph said the more aggressive directive will reduce the number of cases, and thereby, reduce the number of deaths.

“We know that 1.5 percent of cases end in death,” Randolph said. “To decrease the number of deaths, we must decrease the number of new cases.”

Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the health directive is designed to blunt the curve of this new surge of cases in Shelby County.

“We needed to take appropriate action,” said Haushalter. “Our ultimate goal is to decrease deaths by decreasing the number of cases.”

Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease physician, said he personally sees one or two deaths each day. Jain was on hand to give a nod to the new health directive.

Haushalter said the update on the Moderma vaccine is that they did not get in yesterday as expected. The vaccine is due in “some time this week,” she said.

First responders and healthcare workers are still top priority for receiving the vaccine.

Dr. Reginald Coopwood, president and CEO of Regional One Health, closed out with the announcement of a Pay It Forward Community Campaign Fund to assist families in the Mid-South who are suffering financially.

“We reached out to Baptist Hospitals and Le Bonheur as well,” said Coopwood. “We have already raised $100,000. We are reaching out to all the major corporations in Memphis. FedEx gave $25,000. …We invite everyone who can to give to help our neighbors.”

To donate to the fund, visit PayItForwardMidSouth.org.