MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A record number of 256 new COVID-19 cases is just one of the reasons the Shelby County Health Department hit the brakes on moving into Phase 3 of the COVID-19 Back to Business plan.
Today it was anticipated we would have moved into phase 3, which would have allowed increased capacity at restaurants and retail stores, and allowed entertainment venues such as movie theaters to open. But that is no longer the case.
The Director of the Shelby County Health Department said there are signs there is significant transmission in the community, and moving on to Phase 3 would have put more people at risk.
Members of the COVID-19 joint task force said the decision to stay in Phase 2 was made for several reasons. Not only the large increase in cases, but the slow uptick in the reproduction rate, an increase in hospital admissions, and the need to improve contact tracing.
This is the second time the task force has moved the date for moving into Phase three. And at this point, no new date has been given.
"I'm not going to give a date. We have really worked as hard as we could towards being data driven, and clearly there is often times pressure to give a date. But we are at a place where we just need to say the data will drive it," said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director.
She went on to explain the requirements to get to Phase 3.
"What we need to see to move us into Phase 3 is a downward trend of cases, or, at a minimum, a leveling off of those cases. And we also have to see that the capacity is there."
The capacity of hospitals is what director Haushalter is talking about. William Kenley with Methodist Lebonheur Healthcare echoed the same concerns.
"The recent trends we are seeing are cause for concern, but I want to the public to know that our healthcare system is ready in the event of a surge," said Kenley.
Haushalter says to move into Phase 3, contact tracing must also improve. The investigation closure rate recently dipped to 77%, and they would like it to be closer to 90%.
"One of the things we know is contribution to a decrease in our contract tracing closure, is we have individuals who are being contacted by the health department who are not responding back. So we will be doing more home visiting as we move forward to get that number up," said Haushalter.
Additional contract tracers are expected to be hired and working by July 1st.
As for mandating masks, Haushalter says their legal experts have determined the county cannot issue a directive requiring people wear masks, but she said cities can.