Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Officer, was the lone presenter today. He said that there were only 235 new cases today and that continues to represent something of a downward trend. The health department attributes the trend to better public observance of masking and social distancing regulations, and to limited service restaurants being closed. Some very observant reporters challenged Dr. Randolph on this point later on,
Dr. Randolph brought up contact sports, and Tennessee Executive Order 55 allowing sports including contact sports. He brought up the subject of how many people would be able to attend Memphis Tigers football home games this fall. The health department was consulted, and advised that groups of spectators need to be kept 12 feet apart. Therefore, attendance will be limited to 4500 per game. Why 12 feet at sporting events, when 6 feet of distance is the usual standard? Studies show that when people yell, droplets possibly containing the virus can travel more than 6 feet. Adherence to wearing masks will be required in addition to the 12 feet of spacing. These are the same requirements in place for Memphis 901 FC home soccer matches at AutoZone Park.
There had also been a question about whether contact sports would be allowed in non-school settings, such as pee-wee football. The health department interprets the governor’s executive order to mean that the Tennessee Economic Recovery Group guidelines must be followed. However, the health department has the power to ensure that the guidelines set down in its directives are followed at the sports venues.
Randolph made one more comment on sports: Just because something is legally permitted does not mean that it is medically advisable or recommended. As things become more open, it’s going to be up to individuals to decided whether to participate in certain activities, based on the situation and the vulnerabilities present. Parents are going to have to exercise judgment, make decisions.
Randolph was asked where we are in terms of labs being able to process test results. He replied, tremendous improvement has been seen, down to an average of about 4 days where we were seeing as long as 14 previously. 2-3 days is the goal.
Dr. Randolph was next asked about the tripwires document. He said it is still being prepared, and they are looking at incorporating the document into future health directives.
Next question: Thoughts on whether it’s safe to vote in person. Randolph replied that any time we venture out, we are at risk of some level. At polls you must exercise the same safety measures as you would at Kroger or Walmart. Wear your mask or facial covering, maintain six feet of distance, use hand sanitizer. The take-home message was that the basic safety measures apply to all situations.
Next a reporter asked about the positivity rate being above 10%, and if that’s an indication that testing is missing cases, making the numbers misleading. Dr. Randolph said, hopefully we’re not missing cases, but on the other hand it would be naive to think everyone who has contracted COVID has been tested. Well, that was a political answer that could have been followed with, “I have nothing more to add, other than I would add that I have nothing to add.” As for hospitalization numbers, Randolph said that fluctuation was to be expected, and that not everyone in the hospital is there for COVID.
Next a Commecical Appeal reporter commented that the past three days, we’ve seen 1300 or fewer test results per day. Should we expect that to go back up to around 2900 which has been the daily average the past couple of months? Dr. Randolph said it was hard to say if this was due to fewer tests being conducted, or if labs were catching up reporting results. He speculated it was both somewhat.
In a followup, Dr. Randolph was asked what the testing capacity is this week and how much of it is being utilized. He said the goal is 2400 or so per day, but as to how nearly we are approaching that goal this week he could not say.
Jeni DiPrizio of Local Memphis asked how Dr. Randolph knew that the recently lower daily case count was due to improved masking and the closure of limited service restaurants. She pointed out that less testing had been conducted, so that could be the reason for the reduced number of cases as well. That is a GREAT QUESTION, especially since for the past week, testing was limited to the symptomatic and the exposed. Dr. Randolph replied that you have to look at the rolling 7-day average for positivity rate, which has undergone a tremendous 0.7% drop to 15.8% percent, having taken a free fall from the 16.5% pinnacle it reached in July.
In a followup question, she asked about the White House sounding the alarm that 75 of 95 Tennessee counties are at high risk for COVID and that family gatherings should be postponed. Randolph said he would not object to family gatherings happening, but asks people to remember masking, 6 feet of distance, and hand hygiene. We do know transmission has occurred as a result of family gatherings in the past.
Shay Arthur of WREG then asked a GOOD QUESTION, one that should have been asked long before now, considering that people’s livelihoods are at stake: How long would the downward trend have to last for the health department to allow limited service restaurants to reopen? Dr. Randolph said he hopes the trend lasts for weeks, but we would need to see at least a 28 day downward trend for that to be considered, and how steep of a downward trend would be a factor.
Closing statement: The virus is here, gonna be here a while, let’s figure out how to function as best we can, masking, six feet, other practices.