Shelby County Health Department officials say Memorial Day weekend appears to have been “a success” from a health-safety standpoint, but they will know for sure in 10-14 days.
Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said there were 4,531 reported COVID-19 cases in Shelby County as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, up from 4,404 on Monday, a rise of 127.
Ninety-four people have died from COVID-19 complications, she said, and 3,047 residents have recovered from the virus.
Statewide, there were 20,965 reported COVID-19 cases Tuesday up from 20,607 reported cases Monday, according to the state Health Department. The department reported 343 deaths statewide.
In the second week of Phase II of the Back to Business plan for Memphis and Shelby County, Haushalter told reporters at Tuesday’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force update that the number of positive cases increased by 100 new cases each day over the Memorial Day weekend.
“This daily increase could be a number of things,” Haushalter said. “There was Mother’s Day weekend and nursing home clusters have not been contained. We are looking more closely at possible causes.”
A cluster is two or more cases on the same site.
Shelby County Health Officer Bruce Randolph called the holiday weekend successful, for the most part.
“We hope this will bear out in 14 days,” said Randolph. “A Memorial Day Blast in Cordova was held. Lots of people gathered for baseball games. There were no calls from code enforcement about noncompliance to safety protocols.”
Randolph said he visited the Cordova game site and observed most people wearing cloth masks or face coverings and practicing social distancing.
He also visited Shelby Farms, where people “were being safe.” Randolph said a Kroger store he entered was encouraging, as “almost everyone” wore masks.
Haushalter said Phase III will be considered by June 8.
“Our behavior will drive the date,” Haushalter said. “Most transmissions take place in the home and in the workplace. People go to work and bring the virus home to everyone. Employees meet on break and take lunch in different areas of the workplace. Home and workplace are still the main sites of transmissions.”
Haushalter said clusters in nursing homes still are not contained, but it is also a nationwide problem. Twenty new cases were identified at Parkway Health and Rehabilitation Center in South Memphis, for example.
Haushalter said the increase in nursing homes is caused by the communal setting. Also, more targeted testing is being done in nursing homes.
Targeted testing still is being done on detainees at 201 Poplar Avenue, the county jail. Health officials are dealing with an outbreak among both staff and inmates.
The Back to Business Board is accepting proposals for large gatherings, such as graduations and weddings. A formal process has been devised so that protocols for safe assemblies can be drawn up for a healthy event, said Randolph.
Haushalter said those who traveled over the Memorial Day weekend, especially to areas that are considered hotspots, should not return to work or other public activities. Isolation should be done for the next 14 days, whether COVID-19 symptoms are present or not.
Health officials said the success over the next two weeks will depend on everyone remembering that the virus still is present. Safety protocols put in place continue to be essential — wearing face coverings at all times in public; frequent hand-washing for 20 seconds, and social distancing at least six feet.
Shelby County health officials are already looking to meet the challenge of a possible early fall outbreak of the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of a new wave of COVID-19, along with the anticipated flu season. The two outbreaks will be simultaneous, according to the WHO.
Haushalter said community partners are expecting to increase testing capacity and hospital capacity by that time. The former Commercial Appeal building at 495 Union Ave., which has been converted into a COVID-19 intensive care unit, will be up and running as a backup facility.