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Daily COVID-19 briefing yields ‘pivotal moment’ caution

The arrival of Shelby County’s “pivotal moment” in the battle against the novel coronavirus was signaled by the numbers four and ten. That’s the number of confirmed cases made public on Wednesday compared to the count announced the next day.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter delivered more sobering news about the presence of the novel coronavirus in Shelby County. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

“As of late yesterday (Wednesday) evening, we are up to 10 cases in Shelby County,” Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) Director Alisa Haushalter pronounced during Thursday’s daily briefing on the effects of the COVID-19 virus in Shelby County.

“Currently, there are 81 people being monitored, 36 individuals have been approved for testing, and, we believe that we’re seeing the very beginning of community transmission.”

That means the disease is showing up in Shelby County in people who have not been to another virus-affected outbreak area.

On the day that word came about community transmission, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris declared a state of emergency, which positions him to request federal assistance in obtaining necessary resources to “preserve public safety” and receive assistance “vital to the security, well-being, and health” of county citizens.

Mayor Jim Strickland had made such a declaration earlier. And later on Thursday, he declared a state of civil emergency “requiring all restaurants to perform only take-out or delivery services and bars, gyms and other workout facilities to close.”

The state of civil emergency was effective at midnight (March 19). The announcement about the order also conveyed Strickland’s request that all worship services either be streamed online or postponed until further notice.

In using the term “pivotal moment,” Haushalter said everyone’s help is needed to reduce transmission. Employers are being asked to modify operations where possible to reduce worker contact. Individuals are asked to “choose not to go to restaurants and bars.”

Among the new cases, said Haushalter, there is one individual who had not been connected to travel or any other risk factor. That case was pivotal in the decision to make a declaration of community transmission.

Speaking at Thursday afternoon’s briefing, Harris said county health officials will continue to call on employers and individuals to modify public movement and work practices to minimize contact. Social distancing and other measures are voluntary. Mandatory closures, he said, would create panic, and is not yet determined to be a beneficial act of mitigation.

Haushalter said no known cases had been linked to any restaurants or bars.

Individuals, who are in a state of isolation, will not be tested, Haushalter said. It is not warranted unless they show signs of illness.

Symptoms include fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. In more severe cases, COVID-19 can lead to serious illness with older people and those with underlying medical conditions most at risk.

While scientists are in pursuit of a vaccine, so far nothing has been approved, with the best recommended way to keep from getting it being to avoid exposure to the virus, which is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. That’s why social distancing is advocated.

To wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds now is a frequent public health directive. Hand sanitizers also will get the job done. Other directions include to cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. And, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Now that community transmission has been declared, Haushalter said everyone is being asked to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus by avoiding unnecessary travel, crowds of more than 10 people and non-essential public movement.

Harris said County government would obtain supplies and distribute them and emergency aid as part of what he called “preparatory efforts.”

The county, he said, is moving to develop a plan and procedures that are in alignment with state and federal emergency agencies.

Meanwhile, moves are afoot for a drive-thru testing site at Tiger Lane near Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, the Shelby County Health Department and the City of Memphis are cooperating on that action.

Strickland referenced the effort in one of his distributed updates, saying, “We are currently working through logistics to make sure once we have tests the process is smooth and efficient.”

(Updates and new developments can be followed on the health department’s website at www.shelbytnhealth.com and on Twitter.)

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