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Shelby County doctors seeing pandemic high of COVID-19 patients

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 4:53 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - While COVID-19 case numbers and positivity rates are going down, hospitalizations are going up.

Now, there are more COVID-19 patients in Shelby County hospitals than ever before.

Hospitalizations, which some doctors consider the most important indicator of the pandemic, is a lagging indicator. That means patient surges typically happen two weeks after case surges.

Thursday, 770 people were in the hospital with COVID-19.

Mid-South hospitals are staffing beds as well as they can. With healthcare worker shortages from both the great resignation and rampant COVID-19 transmission, all employees who can be are on the floor.

“They’re redirecting staff from every part of the hospital who are qualified to do work on the floor,” said City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen. “The executives who are all certified practitioners are on the floor doing patient care.”

Last week, Shelby County health officials anticipated the pandemic hospitalization peak would come over the weekend. It happened this week. The 770 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are about 200 more week over week.

The community’s reproductive rate of the virus is at 1.67, the positivity rate is at 36%, and the average daily case count is at 2,305. Those indicators are all down from last week.

McGowen said it’s too early to tell if this means a downward trend is starting.

“Remember, there are more people in the hospital than we ever had in this pandemic attributed to COVID and unlike the previous peak, our staff is shorter than it was before,” McGowen said.

It’s a shortage felt across the country.

McGowen said the Tennessee Hospital Association sent a letter to Governor Bill Lee to request temporary policy relief to allow for more staff on the floor.

“They can do the things they need to do to expand the scope of practice and suspending some of the normal inspections that kind of interfere with day-to-day hospital operations,” McGowen said. “So, we’re looking for some responses. That went to the governor at the beginning of the week, so we’ll look for some responses to that.”

The demand for COVID-19 testing remains high as another 2,500 COVID-19 cases were reported in Shelby County Thursday.

The Biden administration is doubling the amount of rapid COVID-19 home tests it will send to Americans. That brings the total to one billion tests.

Mid-South health officials said more tests in the community will help ease the burden on community sites.

The City of Memphis expects the availability of rapid tests to increase as the Biden administration is getting ready to send millions out this month.

“There is some frustration in regards to the rapid tests,” McGowen said. “That is shared by everyone, not just here in Memphis and Shelby County, but across the country.”

The highly contagious omicron strain now makes up 90% of sequenced tests in Shelby County. The surge has created long lines at testing locations. Shelby County can administer 30,000 tests a week.

Some have taken advantage of people’s frustrations and despair for a quick COVID-19 test. The Better Business Bureau is reporting the emergence of false testing sites across the county.

“If you encounter a location you have questions about, the best thing to do is call the police,” Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said. “You can also report it to our 222-Mask number as well.”

Taylor said all the testing locations are listed on the health department’s website.

You can find a list of vaccination locations there as well.

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