The “safer-at-home” order issued two weeks ago by Mayor Jim Strickland has been extended until April 21 amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement was made Monday (April 6) during a special coronavirus task force briefing held by the Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph. On March 23, Strickland announced a two-week order to shelter in place.

During Monday’s joint briefing, which was streamed lived, Strickland focused primarily on the importance of social distancing and the task force’s efforts to work with one of the city’s most vulnerable populations – the homeless.

“We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” Strickland said before urging people to continue practicing social distancing, only leaving their home to go to work or for essential needs.

“The virus feeds on social interaction,” he pointed out. “We need to starve the virus.”

His plea comes as the latest numbers from the Shelby County Health Department were presented by Dr. Randolph.

As of Tuesday (April 7) morning, according to the Shelby County Health Department, the number of virus-related deaths in Memphis-Shelby County was 18. The total number of reported COVID-10 in the county had climbed to 845.

While Strickland acknowledged residents abiding by the social distancing guidelines, he also highlighted the number of complaints against businesses and individuals who haven’t.

According to the mayor, 140 non-essential businesses have been reported for not following the shelter-in-place order. He pointed out that once notified all business owners complied except one that has since been ordered by the city to close down.

Additionally, there have been 41 calls of crowd violations that Strickland said were sent to law enforcement to handle; and 16 churches in violation.

“I am very happy to report that most people are complying with the safer at home order, but we need all people,” he said before pivoting to the city’s efforts to work with the homeless population, which he called “top of mind.”

The City of Memphis has partnered with local agencies in an effort to ensure homeless Memphians are able to shelter-in-place. So far, the task force has secured two hotels, providing 60 rooms for women and families. The task force is still working out accommodations for men.

Also, in the works are plans to offer mobile COVID-19 testing, specifically for the homeless. In addition to ensuring the safety of the vulnerable subgroup, that would help the task force create a better snapshot of the virus’ effects.

“We want to be sure to test the homeless population, so we can have a better picture of what we’re dealing with as it relates to the virus because that will affect our bottom number,” Dr. Randolph said.

While numbers are expected to surge, there have been differing opinions from local and national health experts on exactly when.

A recent model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations forecasted that the surge in cases and deaths will happen April 15 in Tennessee; but another model endorsed by some state leaders last week predicted a spike on April 19.

Additionally, the updated model suggests that the number of deaths caused by the virus will not exceed 600 in Tennessee. The previous model, on April 2 suggested that there would be more than 3,000 deaths statewide.

Strickland said while the local task force takes into consideration the projections of national health experts, they prefer to rely on those who are local, such as doctors at the Shelby County Health Department and others at the state level.

“We are anticipating a surge to occur within a couple of weeks or so,” Dr. Randolph said, according to projections that are being forecasted by the Shelby County Health Department with guidance from Vanderbilt University.

Strickland said the “best thing that the task force can do is get more testing” while enforcing the need for social distancing and ensuring that there are enough hospital beds in the event of a spike in cases that require hospitalization.

“What we do today, literally, will determine what the surge will be like when it hits in two to four weeks.” Strickland said.

“We must come together to stay apart.”