Coronavirus Cases on the Rise in Tennessee

By Sherman Greer and Suzanne Gibson
July 17, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to set new weekly records across the Mid-South and the nation, Mayor Jim Strickland extended the State of Emergency for Memphis July 15 in response to the pandemic.

Memphis and Shelby County officials have been particularly troubled the past three weeks watching single-day case counts consistently increase.  A new record was set July 14 when Shelby County reported 700 new COVID-19 cases and a test positivity rate above 14 percent. According to health experts, positivity rates below 10 percent are deemed acceptable.

Citing the high positivity rates during the City of Memphis/Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing July 16, Strickland said he was pleased officials have seen “a significant improvement of people wearing masks,” during this critical time to help slow the virus. Memphis City Council previously passed an ordinance requiring facial coverings while in public and the Shelby County Health Department’s latest health directive also requires wearing face coverings. Of the data released by the task force, 466 new cases were reported with an increased positivity rate of 15.1 percent.

In addition to these grim statistics, the region’s hospital capacity is experiencing serious strain with only 11 percent of acute care and 15 percent of ICU beds remaining available. Health and government officials had previously expressed that a minimum of 20 percent of hospital capacity across the region was sufficient.

Record-breaking increases continue throughout the state with Tennessee experiencing its highest     single-day count of 3,314 on July 13. The state’s positivity rate had been trending around 9.5 percent. Elsewhere in the region, Mississippi and Arkansas are experiencing a troubling increase. The increases prompted Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to mandate the wearing of masks across the state and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to mandate wearing masks in 13 counties in Mississippi.

The State of Emergency lasts for seven days and can be renewed weekly. The Mayor began extending his executive order related to COVID-19 on March 17, 2020. Governor Bill Lee previously extended Tennessee’s State of Emergency regarding the Coronavirus through August 29, 2020.

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