A forecasting model by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation released Sunday predicts fewer COVID-19 fatalities in the country than first anticipated, but Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said that won’t change the way the city is responding to the pandemic.
The forecast predicts that between now and early August, 81,766 people in the country will die of the disease, compared to the original prediction of 93,531 deaths. The new predictions are based on new data related to the number of hospital beds and ventilators that will be needed to address the pandemic.
The model predicts the peak in cases would occur close to April 15th or 16th in Tennessee and that hospitals would not reach capacity.
At the first update of the city and county joint COVID-19 task force, Strickland said Monday that this prediction does not change the city’s preparation “for the worst.”
“I think we certainly hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” the mayor said. “Even if you take the study that was released today as accurate, that doesn’t mean we need to stop doing what we’re doing. The public still needs to practice social distancing because I think that’s a part of the formulas they’ve used.”
Strickland said the health department is working on their own modeling, in conjunction with Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County health officer, said the county is anticipating a surge “within a couple of weeks or so,” and is in communication with hospitals in preparation of that surge.
Ultimately, Strickland said the city will rely on advice and predictions from local doctors “here on the ground.”
As for supplies, Strickland said hospitals here have what they need “for today, and tomorrow, and for some days ahead of us. But when that surge comes, we’ve got to plan for that.”
The task force is working to purchase PPE for hospitals, as well as for city and county first responders, Strickland said.
Strickland said the state will likely announce a second care facility in Memphis later Monday. The state said Sunday that it would be opening a facility here on Jackson Avenue.
The mayor said the task force has “worked very hard to expand testing” and is looking to open more sites, including mobile testing sites.
“It is my opinion that the number one thing our task force can do is increase the number of individuals tested, isolate those who have tested positive, and then quarantine all their contact.”
The mobile testing sites are being organized, in part, to serve Memphis’ homeless population, Strickland said.
The mayor said the homeless population is “top of mind.” The task force is coordinating with a number of agencies to make sure the homeless population is able to shelter in place. The group has secured two hotels with a total of 60 rooms serving homeless women and families for the next 30 days.
They are now working to secure additional hotel rooms for homeless men.
The mayor also announced Monday that the city’s Stay at Home Order will be extended through April 21st. Strickland said law enforcement and code officials are currently calling on businesses who are not complying to the order. Additionally, courtesy crews of city employees are monitoring city parks to make sure people understand the order to social distance.
So far, Strickland said 140 businesses have been reported, and 134 of those have been contacted by the city. All but one of the businesses have agreed to comply. The non-complying business is being shut down, the mayor said.
On Sunday, the Memphis Police Department received 41 calls related to crowd violations and 15 calls related to violations at churches.
“I’m very happy to report that most people in Memphis are complying with the Safer at Home orders,” Strickland said. “But we need all of us to do that.”