Social distancing restrictions could be in place until June as virus cases increase in Shelby Co.

Health experts expect later surge in COVID-19 for Mid-South

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County health leaders now say the COVID-19 surge likely won’t happen here until late May or early June.

Members of the city-county COVID-19 task force say it means social distancing restrictions will have to continue for several more weeks and they say when it’s finally time to lift those restrictions, certain things will have to be in place first.

On Saturday, Doug McGowen, the chief operating officer for the City of Memphis, said new forecasts showing the COVID-19 surge in late May or early June in Shelby County means we’ll all have to wait longer for life to return to some sense of normal.

“If the surge is going to be in late May or early June, the restrictions that we have in place today are going to be endured by everyone for another 30 to 45 days to 60 days and we understand what a hardship that is on everyone,” said McGowen. “This is not the time to lift our foot from the restrictions. This is the time to continue monitoring the data and see what that data tells us.”

On Monday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the city can’t reopen until three things happen first: Positive cases must be declining; widespread testing must become more available, and there must be a dramatic increase in contact tracing, or figuring out who infected people came into contact with and getting those people to isolate themselves.

“All of those things are to ensure that our hospitals are not overrun with cases, which is what we’re concerned with now,” said Strickland.

But health experts with Johns Hopkins University worry there won’t be enough people to do that contact tracing.

That’s why they’re proposing a massive scaling up of the public healthcare workforce, calling on Congress to approve $3.6 billion to hire an additional 100,000 people to work as contact tracers.

They say those who’ve been laid off because of the pandemic, as well as students, retirees and others could fill the positions.

So, how did the task force come up with that late May, early June surge?

They say they look at several different models, evaluate the strength and weaknesses of each model and they also get input from local healthcare experts who know this region best.

They say they anticipate updating their forecast about once a week.

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