David Sweat, chief of epidemiology for the Shelby County Health Department, provides details at Tuesday's COVID-19 joint task briefing. (Screen capture)

The predicted “fall surge” of COVID-19 cases is in full effect, Shelby County officials said Tuesday (Nov. 17).

A record-breaking, daily number of 835 new cases was reported at Tuesday’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force update. However, while worrisome, Tuesday’s reported new-cases total is the result of a processing backlog, officials said.

On Monday (Nov. 16), the Shelby County Health Department reported 686 new COVID-19 cases.

Still, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said, “We are in a challenging period … We are still weeks away from a limited number of vaccines available for distribution.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris speaks at Tuesday’s joint task force briefing. (Screen capture)

“I will continue working with leaders across West Tennessee to encourage all 21 counties in this region — that includes 70 cities — to adopt a public masking mandate.”

Harris said all Shelby County organizations are being encouraged to do some type of screening as people enter their establishments.

“We screened more than 14,000 people in the month of October at Shelby County government buildings,” said Harris. “Since the month of August, we have screened 31,000 using information technology and digital screening. We’ve had to re-direct 106 people showing signs of infection.”

According to David Sweat, chief of epidemiology for the Shelby County Health Department, there have been 613 COVID-related deaths.

Shelby County presently has a 9.6 positivity rate. That is nearly 10 out of every hundred people who test are positive.

“We have performed 619,666 tests in Shelby County, but more than 14,000 appointments are still available,” Sweat said. “We have 389 hospitalized at present. Surrounding counties come to Shelby County hospitals for treatment.”

Sweat said DeSoto County is the most active area among the adjacent counties. Uncontrolled spread, he said, is caused by those who show symptoms of the coronavirus and continue to go to work and attend school.

Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the majority of new cases are among younger people.

“Most new cases reported are younger than 45,” Haushalter said. “We previously said everyone should wear masks out in public. Now, we know that masks should be worn when you connect with people outside of the household.”

Travel is being discouraged this holiday season, but those who plan to travel should be tested before they leave, Haushalter said.

Health officials said there are several areas of extreme concern as this new surge gets underway: rising pandemic numbers, adequate health-care staffing and hospital capacity.

“Right now, we are focused on staffing,” said Haushalter. “When New York had that big surge, you had nurses coming in from other parts of the country to help out. But now, there is a serious shortage of nurses all across the country. We are concerned about our hospital capacity going into the holidays.”

Haushalter said four out of five people, or 80 percent of infected individuals, do not quarantine, but they go about their normal routine for one to three days after being tested. By that time, they have infected 40 to 45 more people, she said.

In contact tracing, health officials not only identify people, but public venues where these contacts are made.

“As we track the public businesses, where many of these infections happen, there are three, particular places that are over-represented,” said Haushalter. “Places where young people socialize in groups — a home or some other place, restaurants and gyms where people are working out — these three are over-represented.”

Haushalter said these venues are most at risk because these are places where people tend to remove their masks.

Haushalter said there is COVID-19 fatigue, but “we can’t get complacent.”

Mayor Harris said he will continue to collaborate with mayors and officials in surrounding counties to mitigate the alarming surge.

“We continue to say this is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Harris. “We are at a critical juncture, and we will continue to work very hard on a consensus with officials in surrounding areas.”

(For information or assistance in setting up screening in some public place or business, call: 901-222-2012.)