COVID stretching hospital and testing capacity, health dept. director tells county commission


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Health officials working with the White House recently spent three days in Memphis and provided recommendations for getting COVID numbers back on track, Shelby County’s health department director told county commissioners Wednesday.

This comes as Shelby County has recorded more than 12,500 cases and 208 deaths, and health officials say hospitals and testing facilities are reaching capacity.

“This is serious. We know that we have continued spread in our community but we have an opportunity to turn this around,” Dr. Alisa Haushalter told commissioners at a meeting that was in-person, though socially distanced.

Haushalter said the county is beginning to stretch its hospital capacity. “We don’t want to get to the point where we can’t handle not just COVID patients, but trauma patients and others that need help.”

“We are receiving anecdotal notes that the emergency rooms are backed up significantly and that there have been some hospitals put on diversion,” she said. “I know over the weekend with Regional One, we always have increased traumas on holiday weekends. Their ability to bring in traumas and handle those is impeded because of the number of COVID beds that are taken up.”

Speaking of testing, she said the county is now “at capacity.”

“Several things are happening. More people are getting tested, some of the testing sites had to reduce their time because of the heat, many of them are outside so they can’t be open in the afternoons and we have serious through-put issues in the laboratories,” she said.

That means labs have a lot of different entities coming to them for testing results.

“Where we were getting reports in 1-2 days, we’re now getting reports 5-7 days out. Very much like at the beginning of the pandemic.”

She said this is concerning because people might not remain isolated while waiting for test results, allowing for more transmission.

Haushalter also spoke about a recent visit from several health experts connected to the White House. Four people who came to Memphis spent three days on site. 

Haushalter said Memphis was one of 10 cities the team connected to the White House noticed throughout the country that was seeing increases, but she believed with appropriate intervention it could get back on track. 

She said she had a meeting with unified command from the state level Wednesday afternoon to talk about implementing some of the recommendations. 

Haushalter said the county does a good job producing and utilizing data but also talked about the need to focus our intervention in grassroots communication into communities.

Getting masks to people and getting people to wear them are key, she said. The county also needs to increase testing in communities most impacted.

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