Phase 3 of reopening not likely next week for Shelby County following significant COVID-19 case increase

Updated: Jun. 2, 2020 at 4:43 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Public health officials in Shelby County did not mince words Tuesday, saying they’re worried about the direction of the pandemic in the county as nearly 200 new cases were added to the tally in Tuesday morning’s numbers.

"Our numbers are increasing, and we are alarmed about that," said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Officer.

Shelby County added 190 new confirmed COVID-19 cases from Monday to Tuesday, the largest day-to-day increase since the pandemic started.

The last similar-sized increase of 187 cases came at the end of April and was the result of surge testing of staff and detainees at 201 Poplar.

Shelby County Health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said the spike is not associated with one specific testing or social event but rather represents an increase in community transmission, likely centered around Memorial Day weekend.

Day-to-day case counts over the past week have ticked up instead of leveling off or decreasing, Randolph said.

“You’re talking about 11 days ago, and that is the time when you would begin seeing positives,” said Randolph, of Memorial Day weekend. “We are really concerned and will be monitoring for the next couple of weeks to see if the spike continues.”

The county is currently in phase two of the Back to Business plan. Phase three, which would've eased restrictions further, could've started next week. But Randolph said that won't happen.

“We are looking less likely at phase three,” said Randolph. “Based on the trend that we see now, I do not think we can move to phase three at this point.”

Tuesday afternoon Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland modified his safer-at-home executive order, extending phase two of the Back to Business plan in the city of Memphis until at least June 16.

Memphis City Council members delayed a final vote Tuesday on a city ordinance that would require the use of facial coverings in public. Some council members indicated they were still on the fence about the issue.

One of the sponsors and council member Dr. Jeff Warren said the day-to-day increases in COVID-19 cases may make the decision for the council much easier in the days to come.

“The issue that we have, is we have been following the numbers on the COVID task force, since opening up we’ve begun to see a gradual and steady increase in the number of cases we are having,” said Warren. “I think the numbers we are going to see this week from the COVID task force are going to make the decision we make on this pretty obvious.”

The Shelby County Health Department has held off on issuing a facial covering order county-wide but indicated Tuesday that it was on the table and would be used if needed.

“If our numbers continue to increase, we will have no choice but to mandate that a facial covering be required for everyone when you are out of your home, and you are in the presence of someone else or entering into an establishment,” said Randolph.

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