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MEMPHIS, Tenn.— On a day when Shelby County reported 915 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, the Shelby County COVID Task Force said cases could be six times higher by the end of September if we do not contain the spread of the virus.

Officials noted that there has been a tenfold increase in the number of hospital patients within the last 60 days.   

“Our hospital systems are in crisis due to the high volume of patients coming to our emergency wards,” Memphis city COO Doug McGowen said.

McGowen warned that if trends continue, hospitals may have to start triaging patients.

The Shelby County Health Department held a joint task force meeting on Thursday, August 19. Dr. Michelle Taylor of the Shelby County Health Department spoke about the number of rising COVID-19 cases in the city and mitigation efforts.

Shelby County has a new mask mandate which goes into effect on Friday, August 20, at 7:00 am. This applies to everyone, ages 2 and up, to wear a mask inside public spaces.

Taylor stressed avoiding unnecessary trips to emergency rooms to help decrease the patient load on hospitals. Instead, she recommends seeing your general practitioner, family doctor or go to an urgent care location during business hours.

“Waits in the emergency departments are 36 to 48 hours. I’ve heard reports of 60 hours, and that’s almost three days of waiting to just be seen,” Taylor said.

She stressed that people should not go to the ER for a COVID-19 test. Taylor suggested that if people needed testing, there are multiple sites still operational.

Sites are still open at the former vehicle inspection building on Lamar, Christ Community Health, and Poplar Healthcare.  To view available sites, click here.

City leaders stressed doing the right thing in the press conference in the battle against the Delta variant.

In addition to masking and social distancing, city leaders urged those who have not been vaccinated to consider doing so, as soon as possible.

“Greater than 98 percent of the cases we’re seeing in the county right now are from the Delta variant of COVID-19, and most of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 currently are unvaccinated people,” Taylor said.

McGowen said hospitals are asking for help from the Tennessee National Guard.

“It resonated with me, they’re making life and death decisions when you’re walking in the door about the probability of survival,” McGowen said.

City leaders said that the Pipkin Building vaccination site will not close considering recent hospitalization numbers.

“Clearly that is something we are not going to want to do based on demand for first and second doses when FDA approval comes and a pretty significant demand for that third shot to improve your overall immunity from the disease,” McGowen said.

While the new mask mandate will include indoor, public spaces, Taylor is also emphasizing that everyone needs to mask up if they’re going to be in crowded outdoor areas.

“We know if everyone masks up in the county, we can see a slowing in our transmission rate within five to seven days,” Taylor said. “That’s significant. It’s going to give our hospitals some breathing room.”