Monday, June 15, 2020

Health Department Brakes on Phase III

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2020 at 2:52 PM

click to enlarge The new Bishop restaurant inside Central Station Hotel
  • The new Bishop restaurant inside Central Station Hotel

Shelby County will not move into the next phase of reopening the economy here on concerns of rising cases, transmission rates, hospitalizations, and reduced public health resources.

The announcement from Shelby County Health Department officials came Monday afternoon, the day Phase III — the next phase of the county’s Back to Business Plan — was to go into effect. No date was given Monday for when the county might be able to move into the next phase.

Health department director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said decisions to move into the new phases are based on four criteria: trends of new cases, testing, hospital capacity and hospitalizations, and public health capacity.

Sunday marked the most new cases of COVID-19 reported here in a single day over the previous 100 days since the virus response began. The figure is part of a trend, one that was expected after a loosening of rules and the Memorial Day weekend holiday. While case numbers did rise, Haushalter and others considered maybe the county was in a “new normal but we are not.”

“We are seeing significant transmission within the community and if we moved forward [into Phase III] we would have been more at risk,” she said.

Also, health department officials got a sense of concern from leaders at local hospitals during a regular Sunday call about what they’re seeing in their facilities. Early hospitalizations found clusters of patients from area nursing homes. However, new hospitalizations “now represent our community more broadly.”

While the health department is on-boarding more staff to help with investigations and contact tracing, Haushalter said current staff levels are not adequate. Typically, the ability to do contact tracing of new patients is around 80 percent, she said, but that number has dipped over the past few weeks.

Testing capacity is another criteria officials look at to decide to move into a new phase. However, Haushalter said Shelby County has plenty of capacity and that it’s “underutilized.”

In Phase III, restaurants, stores, and some other facilities could have allowed up to 75 percent customer capacity. Gathering could have included more than 50 people. Festivals and parades may have been allowed. None of that is allowed in Phase II, though.

Even as cases spiked last week, Haushalter maintained the county could move into the next, looser phase unless there were unforeseen changes in the data. Rising and unstable figures made prudent the decision to stay in Phase II. Moving ahead now could cause “more damage economically and socially.”

William Kenley, executive vice president for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s Community Group said the rising numbers were “cause for concern.” However, he said local healthcare systems are “ready and available in case of a surge” with hospital capacity, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other medical supplies.

Health officials typically announce moves from one phase to another on Mondays. So Monday, June 22nd, would be the first opportunity to know if we're cleared for Phase III.

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