Tennessee's largest county could return to Phase 1 of reopening due to spike in COVID-19 cases

Shelby County, which includes Memphis, has seen a surge in new infections.

June 22, 2020, 7:11 AM

Tennessee's largest county could go back to the first phase of its reopening plan due to a recent spike in novel coronavirus infections.

Tami Sawyer, the commissioner of Shelby County, which includes the city of Memphis, said she plans on Monday to request to return to phase one after health officials reported the largest single-day increase of COVID-19 cases over the weekend.

"The numbers we are seeing show we have moved too fast," Sawyer said in a statement to Memphis ABC affiliate WATN. "Back to business can’t be at the expense of people’s health."

Sawyer said she will be asking Shelby County Health Department director Alisa Haushalter and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris about the feasibility of returning to phase one. The county is currently in phase two.

"If feasible, I will request that we make that call," she told WATN in her statement. "If we aren’t returning to Phase 1, what additional policy and protections will the county put in place immediately and how can the commission support the crisis we seem to be in the midst of as daily numbers are doubled and almost tripled. We have to act urgently and put PEOPLE, not businesses first."

PHOTO: Health officials administer tests for COVID-19 at a station set up outside Agricenter International in Memphis on May 18, 2020.
Health officials administer tests for COVID-19 at a station set up outside Agricenter International in Memphis on May 18, 2020.
Karen Focht/Zuma Press, FILE

On Saturday morning, the Shelby County Health Department recorded 385 new COVID-19 cases over the previous 24-hour period -- the highest day-to-day jump since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shelby County has reported the most coronavirus cases and deaths of any area in the Volunteer State. Overall, Tennessee has confirmed more than 35,000 COVID-19 cases with at least 526 deaths in the state. At least 7,916 of those cases have been reported in Shelby County so far, including 163 deaths, according to the latest data from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Tennessee began easing coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions back in April, and several areas have seen a climbing rate of infections since then. Last week, Haushalter announced that Shelby County was delaying a move to the third and final phase of its "Back to Business" reopening plan due to an "upward trend" in new infections and a "concerning" rise in hospitalizations.

"We all have our part to play to reduce the impact of COVID- 19 on our community," Haushalter said during a June 15 press briefing. "We had all hoped to move into Phase 3. Clearly, that is not prudent at the current time."

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