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Memphis area hospitals seek extra staff as new COVID patient record set

According to the Shelby County Health Department, 770 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Those with the Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force said they are hoping to get reinforcements from state and federal level, with local hospitals now treating a record high number of COVID patients.

The 770 COVID patients hospitalized on Thursday sets a record for the pandemic, as the current Omicron surge continues to strain doctors and nurses, and strain overall non-COVID care.

"Unlike the previous peak, our staff is even shorter than it was before. The hospitals are not immune from the effects either, so they are even more short staffed than our previous peaks," City of Memphis Chief Operating Office Doug McGowen said. 

In response, those with Memphis area hospitals - through the Tennessee Hospital Association - requested to Gov. Bill Lee a series of relief proposals, including temporary help from medical staff members in the Tennessee National Guard.

"Our (hospital) leaders are committed to doing the right thing. They are redirecting staff from every part of the hospital who are willing to do work on the floors. The executives who are licensed practitioners are actually on the floor doing care," McGowen added.

This Omicron led surge - now making up more than 90% of recent test samples - is also causing absences with City of Memphis workers, including in transit, public safety, and solid waste, and impacting programming with parks and libraries.

If there is any good news, the weekly test positivity rate, reproductive rate, and 7-day new case average are trending down. 

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, as new patients are usually treated weeks after someone tests positive.

The Shelby County Health Department is also awaiting word from the state and federal level in next week or so on how many rapid tests they can expect to receive.

"We know that people can either not get their hands on one because they are in such short supply, and we have a lot of people in our community who frankly cannot afford to go out and buy multiple tests," Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said.

Thursday, at the Pursuit of God Transformation Center in Frayser, Pastor Ricky Floyd distributed 300 2-packs of rapid tests, which for some are increasingly hard to find or afford these days.

Pastor Floyd said he secured the tests and neighborhood distribution through the Shelby County Health Department.

"It's so important with what we see the rise of COVID in this community, just the awareness and availability," Pastor Floyd said. "It takes away the inconvenience of having to stand in a line or having to go to your car or to a building. All people have to do is drive up."

COVID-19 Joint Task Force News Briefing

Press conference for Thursday, January 13, 2022

Posted by Shelby County Health Department on Thursday, January 13, 2022

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated a different number for hospitalizations, but according to the Shelby County COVID Task Force, there are currently 770 hospitalizations.