Memphis officials worry about COVID influx from rural areas as governor reopens state

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis-area hospitals are bracing for a possible influx of COVID patients from surrounding counties.

While Shelby County leaders are creating their own plan to reopen the economy, they also are preparing for what’s happening around them, as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee gradually allows businesses to open in 89 counties including those surrounding Shelby County.

“We are worried about the pressure on our hospital systems,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said.

Harris announced Friday that Shelby County’s shelter in place order would be extended through the end of April.

Critics are concerned the statewide reopening will create a large influx of coronavirus cases in rural communities where hospitals may not have the resources, or have shut down over the past few years.

That has put a lot of pressure on Regional One and other hospitals in the Memphis area, Harris said.

The Tennessee Hospital Association reports the coronavirus pandemic has hospitals across the state experiencing a negative financial impact of approximately $1 billion per month.

Some hospitals in the Memphis area are prepared for what’s to come.

“There’s no question that would be a potential concern if we saw really elevated numbers of the disease,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

“The good news is that obviously with a system like this one, you have a lot of capabilities for communication, telemedicine,” he said. “We may be able to do things short of most critical care maneuvers that could keep people where they were, safely.”

As of today, the COVID-19 task force reports more than 850 acute and 143 ICU beds available at all the of the hospitals while construction continues at alternate care sites.

Harris said there’s discussions to allow elective surgeries again.

“They’d be in a better position to stabilize, to not furlough employees and make sure they have staffing and bed capacity in place when the surge occurs,” Harris said.

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