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'We are going to have some pretty rough weeks' | Why Memphis area could see new record high for COVID hospitalizations

COVID hospitalizations spiked 251% in past two weeks; currently 575 patients sick during Omicron surge, closing in on high of 721 set during late summer Delta surge.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Thursday, those with the Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force reiterated their increasing concern of a surge of COVID hospitalizations in recent weeks at Memphis area hospitals.

New data released each Thursday showed 575 COVID patients in area hospitals, including 104 in the ICU. That compares to 164 and 43, respectively, just two weeks ago, marking a total increase of 251% in that time span.

RELATED: Here are the number of COVID-19 cases across the Mid-South

Those with the task force fear a new record high for area COVID hospitalization will be set in the coming days.

"Our forecast is that this weekend we will surpass the highest amount of people hospitalized in Shelby County since we have begun the pandemic," City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said. "What that means is we are going to have some very difficult days ahead here in Memphis and Shelby County."

McGowen said the latest hospitalization surge during this pandemic is again impacting overall care and those available on the medical frontlines.

"Our staffs at the hospital are not immune from contracting COVID and being sidelined from the workforce," McGowen added. "They are strained with capacity. More people are going to the hospital because they are sick. They are having staffing challenges, which makes it all the harder for people to be treated."

McGowen said beyond hospitals, a record high amount of current active COVID cases is impacting city services and employees available to carry out certain duties.

"Our police and fire agencies have significant absenteeism because people are either quarantined or isolated, making it more difficult to serve you," McGowen said. "Hospitalizations are going to continue to increase. The people that you rely on for your core services are going to be challenged to provide those core services, and there is a little that we can do to stem the tide - except to ask you to take personal responsibility to ensure that you do not contract the virus and you do not spread the virus."

Last week, those with Shelby County government asked Gov. Bill Lee for make an emergency declaration, that would allow the Shelby County Health Department to again issue a temporary indoor mask mandate.

Gov. Lee rejected that request - for now.

RELATED: Tennessee is being sued for not releasing COVID report by contractor

“An emergency declaration is a tool we should use only when we have to. There are a lot of things that go into the calculation for when you should do that, and the first and foremost would be the number of people who are in the hospital. Relative to where they have been in the past, hospitalizations are significantly lower," a spokesperson for Gov. Lee said this week.

Individual businesses still have the right to have mask mandates.

For now, Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor urged the public be vigilant and precautious.

"Especially as we have the type and level of illness in our community right now, it can't be any more important for all of us to pull together and do the things we know work," Dr. Taylor.

COVID-19 JOINT TASK FORCE JAN 6 2022

COVID-19 JOINT TASK FORCE JAN 6 2022

Posted by Shelby County Health Department on Thursday, January 6, 2022