Shelby County’s fight against COVID-19 is facing setbacks as the transmission rate of the virus rises after weeks of driving it down, county health officials say.
On Tuesday, the health department reported 347 new cases, or more than double the average daily count for the past two weeks.
A dramatic daily increase like Tuesday’s is sometimes a result of a reporting backlog, but the deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department, David Sweat, says this time it’s reflecting a trend.
“We’re seeing cases being reported now at similar levels to what we saw at the peak of the epidemic in July," Sweat said at Tuesday’s press briefing. “So the fall wave of COVID-19 is here.”
The health department says the virus’ reproductive rate is currently above one, meaning on average, each new positive case is spreading to at least one other person.
Sweat says people may be making poor choices.
“We know that in many parts of rural Tennessee people are abandoning the use of masks or restrictions on social gatherings and things like that,” he said. “We do see that affecting the rates of the rural counties surrounding Shelby County.”
Sweat didn’t indicate if new local restrictions could be imposed to help contain the virus' spread, instead saying the health department is monitoring the data.
In accordance with the local “trip-wire” guidelines, officials could consider closing local bars again if the reproductive rate jumps above 1.4 and infections surpass on average 450 per day over a week’s period. Although, officials have previously said these metrics are not binding.
Hospitalizations could peak in February, Sweat warned, if the upward trend continues, placing renewed strain on medical facilities.
He urged personal responsibility when it comes to following safety precautions such as masking, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
“We can push [the reproductive rate] down below one and begin, or go back to, shrinking the COVID-19 epidemic,” he said. “If we do otherwise, it will grow again, and the numbers will continue to increase.”
Also on Tuesday, the Health Department released its first Halloween-related coronavirus guidelines.
Carnivals, festivals, parades and haunted houses are not permitted this year. Trick-or-treating is discouraged due to possible contact with people and items that may be infected.
Officials encourage participation in online parties and other activities that meet social-distancing recommendations.