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COVID-19 test positivity rate reaches record high in Shelby County

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 9:07 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County’s COVID-19 test positivity rate is the highest it’s been all pandemic.

This week, the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) reports more than 40 percent of all COVID-19 tests given are coming back positive.

One infectious disease doctor says a COVID-19 test positivity rate at 41.4 percent is uncharted waters. Another says a positivity rate that high means not enough people are getting tested.

The newest community COVID-19 testing site in Shelby County on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) plans to administer 400 to 500 tests a day. Those seeking a test waited in lines spanning several blocks Wednesday.

“We know a lot of our community sites are extremely overloaded and at capacity. So, we want to provide an access site for our community,” said Brandon Williams, executive director of community outreach for University Clinical Health.

Thousands of Mid-Southerners are seeking a COVID-19 test daily and are willing to wait in line for hours to get one.

At Wednesday’s Shelby County Commission meeting, health officials reported the test positivity rate is at 41.4 percent, shooting up from last week’s 24.5 percent.

“We never ever see these kinds of things in infectious diseases, both the rapid rise and such a positivity rate. So, we are all in uncharted waters here,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Manoj Jain.

“I think that degree of positivity is distressing,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Health. “It probably means we aren’t doing enough testing. We don’t have enough testing available. I think we all know that.”

Threlkeld says a high positivity rate tells him most of the people lining up for tests are experiencing symptoms or have had close contact with someone who is sick. Those with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all may be skipping the test. He says even as the omicron variant shows to be milder, it’s important to know your status.

“We have always seen this not be such a severe disease in many people, " said Threlkeld. “From the very beginning, there were comments saying this is no big deal. I got it and did fine. Indeed a large percentage of people always did well with coronavirus. The problem is two years into this and despite that continuing fact, we’re coursing toward a million deaths in the United States.”

The testing site at UTHSC at the Van Vleet building is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until the end of February.

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