Shelby County Health Department officials expected a slight increase in COVID-19 cases following the Memorial Day weekend. A 14-day wait would tell the story. But, in just 24 short hours since Monday, the daily increase was 190 new cases.
Total coronavirus case numbers now stand at 5,314, with 113 deaths. That represents one of the highest daily increases since the start of Phase II when cases were said to be “leveling off,” said a health official in a Joint Task Force COVID-19 update at noon Tuesday.
Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said Phase III of the county’s Back to Business reopening plan could foreseeably be delayed, if case numbers continue to increase at an elevated rate. Health officials have maintained that the county’s progression through the phases would be data-driven, and not date-driven.
Phase II was projected to extend over a 21-day period.
Randolph said the possibility exists that a mandatory order to wear a mask could be imposed as a measure to offset the sharp increase in new cases.
“If our numbers continue to increase,” Randolph said, “we will have no other choice but to mandate that facial coverings be required” when someone leaves their home and goes out to a public place.
The Memphis City Council tabled a measure to mandate the wearing of a mask in public during its Tuesday morning meeting. The proposed ordinance, however, can be revisited at any time for new discussion.
Mandates will be a last-resort appeal to Shelby Countians to voluntarily comply with mask recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Randolph
The health department, which has hosted mask giveaways, have nixed the use of masks they were provided by the state.
According to the health department, masks manufactured by Renfro Corp. were treated with a chemical called Silvadur — an “anti-microbial agent applied to fabrics to reduce the growth of odor-causing bacteria.”
The state chose Renfro Corp., based in North Carolina, to produce 5 million masks to be distributed statewide because of its Cleveland, TN, plant.
Normally, the plant makes socks. The contract was for $8.2 million.
Tennessee lawmakers and others had complained that the masks were too porous to be effective and that they “look like socks cut in half.” The masks are black with a white “TN” woven on the left side.
Partnering organizations for the mask giveaways were also asked to stop the distribution until more is known about the chemical.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, who was also on hand Tuesday, was asked whether he wished the ongoing police-brutality protests could have come at another time when the county was not dealing with the pandemic.
Lee said he thinks about the founding documents that promise life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Without us being able to confront the global health emergency and making sure healthcare access is available over the long-term, we can’t accomplish that first plan,” he said.
Lee said we also need to make sure the focus is on civil liberties and civil rights. That’s also as important and has been important since the founding of this country. That’s something “we have not gotten right yet,” he said.
Lee said both the challenge of the pandemic and that of the protests must continue to be met together.
Statewide, there were 548 new cases since Monday, bringing the total to 23,554. Total deaths around the state are 367.