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Where are Shelby County's COVID-19 clusters? The Local I-Team found out

A cluster is defined as 10 or more cases in one location.
Credit: jen

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Where you work may have big influence on how likely you are to get COVID. The Local I-Team is uncovering Shelby County's COVID clusters.

Many of the locations are connected to our region's largest employers, from warehouses and distribution centers to mental health facilities.

For months the Shelby County Health Department has only been regularly releasing COVID-19 clusters connected to nursing homes and correctional facilities. When we asked about other locations of community clusters, we were told to file a public records request. So we did.  

"I cannot tell you with any certainty where I picked this up," said Ken Hall, COVID survivor.

Hall doesn't know how he caught COVID-19. He might have caught it from a friend, but that's just a guess.

"I could have grabbed the wrong handle at the grocery store. You just don't know," said Hall. 

According to the list of COVID-19 clusters from the Shelby County Health Department, there has not been a COVID-19 cluster connected to any Shelby County grocery store. A cluster is  defined as 10 or more cases connected to the same location. 

So where are they? 

Local 24 obtained a list of COVID clusters and found there are 55 Shelby County businesses with 10 or more COVID cases associated with them. 

The Nike Logistics center in Frayser has 29 cases, and there are 88 cases at the Amazon distribution center on Holmes Road. The Fedex hub tops the list of COVID clusters, with 193 cases.

"Basically, if you are a large employer, you are going to be on this list because you have so many employees," said David Sweat, Shelby County Health Department, Chief of Epidemiology. 

RELATED: Memphis area hospital systems urge public to take COVID-19 seriously & mask up

Sweat said this list goes back to the beginning of the pandemic, and he is careful to point out this doesn't mean people caught the virus at their workplace. But the cases do share the same association with the facility. 

Educational facilities are also on the list, as are group homes, mental health facilities, and homeless shelters.

The Salvation Army shelter on Jackson has had 15 cases. The list also reveals how front-line workers at hospitals are vulnerable.

According to the Shelby County Health Department, 50 Methodist University Hospital employees have contracted COVID-19, 60 at Baptist Memorial Hospital, and 67 employees at Regional One.

RELATED: Shelby County Health Department warns temporary restrictions may return if COVID-19 numbers aren't reversed soon

Almost all the cluster locations are indoors where people work closely with one another. 

But what about restaurants and bars? The Blues CIty Brewery is the only one listed under that category and that isn't a place where people go to eat or drink. It's a contract brewery facility. 

Sweat says he knows of only three restaurant clusters - two at unidentified Chick-fil-a's and another at a local Sonic. 

When Local 24 News asked Sweat if he could definitively say if there had been large outbreaks associated with restaurants at all? Sweat responded, "definitively no, but the possibility continues to exist."

Sweat said one of the challenges for tracking clusters has been a lack of information. 

"The CDC interview tool that is used in most parts of the country, and have been used across Tennessee up until we added to it, just simply does not ask enough detail about categories of exposures. And so there were lots of questions we had and the other people had. That the previous interview tool was too short and did not ask enough questions," said Sweat.

Sweat said contact tracers have been using a new questionnaire for just over a month. He hopes that will capture more information to connect the dots. The biggest issue right now is the fall surge. 

"Obviously we are a little challenged because of the number of cases coming in we are getting," said Sweat.

As for Hall, he may not know where he caught COVID but he's glad he survived. 

"I was never really sick, minus the sinus headache ,congestion, sneezing.  My friend's husband had to go in hospital. He was very ill," said Hall.