MEMPHIS, Tennessee — "We are at a really critical point in this pandemic," Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said.
That's the sharp message Tuesday from Shelby County health experts. They said they're left with little choice but to release a new health directive this week or next, to stabilize an unsettled COVID-19 situation in recent weeks.
"It's up to us to change things, slow this increase that we are experiencing. It's up to you," Dr. Randolph said.
In Shelby County, three of the past four days marked the highest one-day totals of new cases. Tuesday also set new highs for 7-day and 14-day new case averages, and there are just 15 available staffed ICU beds at local hospitals.
"The takeaway is we have significant community transmission," Shelby County Health Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said.
As COVID cases go up, so does enforcement from Shelby County health inspectors.
Last week, they temporarily closed nine businesses in violation of the current health order. And after responding to dozens of complaints, the health department temporarily shut down six others over the weekend.
Those businesses were:
- Chardonnay Bistro in Memphis
- El Corral in Memphis
- Agavos in Memphis
- Carolina Watershed in Memphis
- Legacy Bar & Grill in Arlington
- Smoker's Abbey in Cordova
"The majority of those inspections show that businesses are in compliance, but there are always a few businesses that are not compliant - and some of those were to provide education and technical assistance and they come into compliance quickly, others have to be closed," Dr. Haushalter said.
Tuesday, Dr. Haushalter also offered new details on the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccines for the health department to distribute to first responders and those at assisted living facilities.
"We expect that if the (Moderna) vaccine is here and it we have FDA approval that we can begin vaccinating as early as (December) 28th," Dr. Haushalter said. "We are coordinating with the municipalities, particularly their EMS providers, to make sure they are first in line."
She added: "I anticipate, as I said, it will come in dribs and drabs but as we get into the first part of the year I think things will be rolling relatively smoothly between all of the various organizations that can receive vaccine."
There'll also be an educational component in Shelby County to bolster support and participation for the broader public to get vaccinated next spring and summer.
"We have to answer questions of leaders, clearly we want leaders in a variety of areas, faith leaders, medical leaders, nursing leaders and so on to be ambassadors for the vaccine," Dr. Haushalter said.