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Major testing backlog going back weeks to blame for new one-day record of COVID-19 cases in Shelby County

Health experts warn other COVID-19 numbers remain stubbornly high, say new restrictions may be needed.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After a record setting day of 700 new reported COVID-19 cases in Shelby County, health experts also offered caution.

"Those were tests that were taken over a variety of different days," Shelby County Health Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said.

Local 24 News learned the reported tests came from 24 days of testing samples, dating back to June 20th. It highlights the growing and ongoing backlog of COVID-19 test results from labs.

The delayed timing causes a negative ripple effect.

"That means that 700 contact investigations that need to occur today and tomorrow. That puts a significant strain on the public health system," Dr. Haushalter said.

The Shelby County Health Department is bringing on 65 new positions this week - including contact tracers - to contain the surge of COVID-19 transmission across the community and workplaces.

"If the numbers continue to go in the wrong direction and do not stabilize, we will remain ready to introduce additional measures and interventions," Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said.

Those interventions will likely come from new data points - that if surpassed - would force restrictions or closures of certain Shelby County businesses.

Those plans are expected to be finalized later this week.

"Other measures are always under consideration at all times, including devising a set of tripwires, which will operate and tighten the screws as it were needed when the data suggests we need to be more careful," Mayor Harris said.

Meetings also continue between the Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force and area school districts - on how or when - to pick up in-person learning this fall.

"There are many layers and we want to make sure we have a variety of perspectives that weigh in before we make a final decision whether to approve a plan," Dr. Haushalter said.

Local health experts continue to explore ways to expand COVID-19 testing in the areas with the highest percentage of cases, as they also consider new lab partners in the hopes of getting quicker local test sample results.

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