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COVID-19 — Where do we stand?

High numbers of individuals are testing positive for the COVID-19 virus in Hickory Hill, communities in the 38118 Zip code and among detainees held at the Shelby County Jail at 201 Poplar.

Overall, numbers in Shelby County, however, are promising, officials at Wednesday’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force Update said.

Dr. Alice Haushalter

According to Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter, the total number of coronavirus cases now stands at 2,403, up from 2,320 Tuesday, in the county, with 46 deaths. (As of Thursday at 10 a.m., Shelby County had 2484 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 47 deaths.)

The spike was not unexpected, since a broader net has been cast to extend testing for the virus.

“We have been able to meet the needs of those who need to be tested locally,” said Haushalter. “We want to continue to expand our capacity to actually get people tested. And the lab capacity is there…

“About a month ago, our turnaround time from when a specimen was taken and we received a report could be as much as 6-10 days. That caused significant delays in getting people isolated. The turnaround time on average is 24-48 hours…

“We have standardized our education that occurs at the testing sites so that people know they have to be isolated once they are tested, and if results come back positive, they remain in isolation. That is critical to us reducing transmission.”

Largely African-American communities in Hickory Hill and in the 38118 Zip code were singled out as a large concentration of positive cases.

Specifically, in 38118, Haushalter said, people live very closely together in the same neighborhoods. There appears to be “transmission based on family relationships and social relationships,” people going to the same facilities who may or may not be practicing good social distancing and wearing masks.

Outreach has been to distribute educational materials to those communities and making direct contact with community leaders there.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner made a rare appearance at the update to talk about staff and detainees testing positive for coronavirus at the Downtown jail. There have been 155 detainees and 37 employees who have tested positive, he said. One person is hospitalized, but it was not clear whether it is an inmate or employee.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. (Photo: Shirley Jackson/TSD Archives)

“It’s very difficult to practice social distancing in a jail,” Bonner said. “You have to remember this facility was built more than 40 years ago. This pandemic was not even thought of at that time. Now, what we have done in the jail during this process (is to make sure) all inmates have access to soap and hand sanitizers.

“We are constantly cleaning the jail. About two weeks ago now, we issued all inmates and all of the correctional deputies in the jail masks. We’re doing all we can do to fight this virus and slow it down. We’ve moved some of the inmates up to the sixth floor so that the area could be sanitized.”

Bonner said these problems are not unique to Shelby County, but that jails all across the country are struggling with these issues.

Because of the close proximity all inmates have, Bonner said managing the conditions contributing to the spread of the virus is difficult. But he also has reduced the jail’s population.

“I believe now our count is 381,” Bonner said. “Since January, that reduction is roughly about 17 percent. So, we’re going to continue to work with our law enforcement partners — the judges, the attorney general’s office — to see how many more we can safely release out into the community.”

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