8/11 COVID-19 task force press conference recap

Before we do the press conference recap, let’s have a quick look at the Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 dashboard statistics.

  • 7-day rolling average for new cases/day: 236 (180 or fewer needed to open the bars). Not there yet bur down from a high in the low 400s about a month ago.
  • 7-day rolling average for positivity rate: 14.5% (10% needed to open the bars). Down from a high in the low 16%s but we’ve still got a ways to go on this one.

All righty, let’s roll with the press conference recap. Dr. Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director, led off today, and she had several pieces of good news. First of all, the COVID-19 mortality rate is low in Shelby County compared to national averages. That is in part because of a younger average age of COVID-19 patients here, but also attributable to strong local health departments.

Currently the health department is closing 59% of contact tracing investigations.

Dr. H had some excellent news on testing. Lab turnaround is back in the 1 to 3 day range for most tests, and there are over 8000 open slots per week now to be tested.

Community based testing sites will post what age groups of children they are taking to test, as we anticipate the start of the school year. Go to the city COVID-19 website for then whens and the wheres.

The department is exploring new testing modalities including saliva testing and antibody testing. These too are in anticipation of the school year. In Q&A Dr. H said the saliva tests are pool tests and need to remain below a certain positivity result rate to prove useful.

As far as hospitalization, despite acute care and ICU beds being over 90% full, Dr. H said the county has ample bed capacity available at this time, with the surge facility on Union available if needed.

The COVID-19 team has moved to their new facility on Dividend Drive. 125 of the 141 new positions have been filled, and the remainder are mostly highly specialized positions. Dr. H does expect there to be some part-time contact tracer jobs opening for evening and weekend shifts in the near future.

County Commissioner Mickell Lowery took the podium. He noted that certain businesses defined as close-contact businesses – barber and beauty shops, nail salons, tattoo parlors – had to reconfigure to be able to reopen back in May. They had to distance customer stations, implement shifts in which employees could work, limit access to waiting rooms, purchase disposable capes, and impose other restrictions. The new rules caused considerable financial difficulty for those businesses, and Lowery noted that while restaurants can serve to-go meals, there’s no such thing as a to-go haircut. Therefore, Comm. Lowery said, every owner of one of those brick-and-mortar locations is invited to apply for a $2000 grant to offset expenses. He stressed these did not have to be paid back and said to go to the Shelby County COVID-19 website to apply. In a followup question, Dr. H said she expected applications to be open today and processing to be expedited. Comm. Lowery said $1 million has been set aside to support 500 businesses.

Next up was Dr. Jack Shannon, president of CBU. He said the semester starts Monday. This year there will be no fall break and final exams will be over before Thanksgiving in the hopes of minimizing travel to and from campus. Other CBU notes:

  • Resident advisors are already moving in and are going through COVID-19 protocols and extra steps in addition to their usual beginning-of-the-year checklists
  • International students have returned and are currently quarantined in off-campus housing
  • Dorm rooms will be single-occupancy
  • Cafeterias will focus on meals that can be taken outside or back to dorm rooms
  • Students will be able to chat virtually with staff like librarians and career counselors
  • Classes other than the nurses’ and physician assistants’ programs are 80% online or hybrid. Of those in-person, only 5% have enrollment more than 16 and there’s always 6 feet of distance.

Haushalter was asked what her message to parents would be as the school year begins. She said to be attentive to what your child’s school is doing to reduce transmission, because while you can’t eliminate transmission you can drive it down. She said ideally you want to see kids and teachers in masks, and parents can help by teaching kids how to wear a mask and what to do if their mask is soiled. Teach your kids proper hand washing. Be attentive to their health and don’t send them to school if you suspect they are sick.

Dr. H was asked about nightclubs serving food, no doubt referring to the Hughes Nightclub shooting last weekend when the owner said he served the victims ribs about 4 AM. She said sometimes there are venues not licensed as restaurants that serve food anyway, and to let the health department know. She said that some venues think they can skirt health department inspections by being open at 3, 4 in the morning but inspectors can work 24/7.

Dr. H was asked, other than masking up and not going to bars, if there’s anything else people can do to drive transmission down. She said to consider social activities in your personal lives. If you have people over, how many will come, how long will they stay, will you require masks, will everyone be able to keep 6 feet of distance, how will you ensure proper hand washing. She advised against going to visit family and friends in other communities, where you might bring COVID back to Memphis with you. She said to be aware of activities involving alcohol, and the resulting behaviors – talking louder, singing, forgetting to mask.

I am really surprised Haushalter didn’t get drilled on some of the ambiguities in the trip wires in Health Directive No. 10. The Facebook and Twitter “medical experts” need to find an ally in the media who will ask those questions, or find a way to get media credentials themselves.

That’s it for today. Everyone remember to mask up and keep your distance so school can start this month! More importantly, everyone mask up and keep your distance so teachers can go to bars and enjoy an after-work cocktail. Back tomorrow with more news, and Thursday with another recap. Go Grizz!