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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sixteen emergency department medical directors said current state of affairs in the Memphis and Shelby County is at a critical juncture. Those medical directors voiced their concerns in a letter to city and county mayors.

These medical directors said that the mandate should be in place until medical systems can return to normal operations or vaccination rates exceed 80% of the eligible population. 

A 30-day indoor mask mandate is set to go into effect county-wide, Friday morning at 7 a.m.

Health leaders said things are so bad they could soon have to triage patients coming into the ER.

“They’re making life or death decisions when you’re walking in the door about your probability of survival,” Doug McGowen, the city of Memphis’ Chief Operating Officer said.

McGowen said hospitals in Shelby County are about to be at capacity as hospitalizations soar.

Emergency department medical directors sent a letter to city and county mayors this week. Informing them of the current crisis in the Memphis/Shelby County area medical system.

Local emergency departments are operating dangerously over capacity and understaffed.

“We must inform you that we may have to begin triaging care to patients in the next few days,” the doctors said. “To be clear, we may be unable to provide timely care to everyone and will have to make choices about delivering care to patients based on their probability of survival. We can’t stress how grave a concern this is to us all.” 

“It shows us that the crisis is here as a result of a high patient census already,” McGowen said, “and the impacts of COVID hospitalizations which are nearly ten times as high as they were just 60 days ago.”

Doctors have said the crisis is a combination of lack of skilled personnel, available resources, nurses and technicians.  

“People who have non COVID-related injuries are being put at risk by the number of people that are being treated for the disease in the hospitals especially when it is preventable.” McGowen said at the August 19 press conference.

“And we have our emergency department directors telling people, ‘listen, waits in the emergency department are 36 to 48 hours,” Dr. Taylor said about the status of emergency room wait times. “I’ve heard reports as high as 60 hours. That’s almost three days waiting to just be seen.”

Staffing issues are still a problem at local hospitals. City leaders are calling for the public’s help in keeping themselves safe and the medical staff from being overwhelmed.

City leaders are asking people do not go to the ER unless they need to. Instead, go to either a primary care doctor or urgent care facility during regular business hours. 

They stressed that people should not go to the ER to get a COVID-19 test.

City leaders and a hospital coalition are working with the Tennessee National Guard to address staffing shortages.