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Week That Was: Virus Spikes, Police Reform, and Mental Health

Virus spikes attributed to more testing and reporting lags, officials announce police reform steps, and Tennesseans more depressed, anxious.


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Officials Explain Virus Spikes

Recent high rates of the coronavirus in Shelby County were “alarming“ to many, health officials said here last week, but the jumps were likely caused by high testing days and lags in reporting from laboratories.

More than 380 new cases of the virus were reported Friday, June 19th, easily setting the record for the highest number of new cases reported in Shelby County in one day. The figure was over 200 on Saturday (June 20th) but was down to 44 on Sunday (June 21st). The surge in cases made some, like County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, wonder if the county too quickly loosened restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, gave many reasons for the spikes during last Tuesday’s briefing of the Memphis and Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force, but noted they “were alarming to many people.”

The state, for one, is now reporting probable cases of the virus. These cases include someone who has tested negative for the virus but who is connected to a known outbreak or virus cluster. The county is now beginning to report these probable cases in the overall number of new cases. There are now 16 probable cases of the virus here.

Extensive testing was done on June 14th and 15th, pushing the number of positive cases up, Haushalter said. That Saturday’s high figure of new cases contained lab test results from 19 different days, she said, pushing the figure even higher.

Still, Haushalter said community transmission is happening and at a higher rate. The positivity rate needs to be under 10 percent, she said. The number pushed up over 11 percent over that weekend and has come back down since then.

Haushalter said the spikes in cases are not directly linked to the Memorial Day weekend holiday nor the protests against police brutality. She said people are simply out enjoying the warmer weather and are not wearing face masks. However, she did note an uptick of people wearing masks again.

  • Pink Palace Museum

Crafts Fair Canceled

The Friends of the Pink Palace Museum, host of what would have been the 48th annual Pink Palace Crafts Fair, announced Friday, June 26th, that they would cancel this year’s Crafts Fair over concerns about the coronavirus.

“I am so disappointed that we had to cancel the fair due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the concern with holding large events,” said Pam Dickey, chairman of the Pink Palace Crafts Fair, in a statement. “The Friends of the Pink Palace are the largest donor to the Pink Palace Museum system. Their support helps provide free admission and programs to Title 1 students through the Open Doors/Open Minds program.”

The Crafts Fair, an autumn celebration of crafters, makers, and artisans, was originally scheduled to be held Friday, September 25th, through Sunday, September 27th, at Audubon Park.

Officials Outline Steps Toward Police Reform

City officials laid out steps to reform the Memphis Police Department Thursday, June 25th, assuring the community that it is committed to change.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said his administration has been meeting with clergy and other community leaders over the past four weeks to discuss ways to improve the Memphis Police Department (MPD).


Alex Smith, chief human resource officer for the city, said the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement have led city officials to “continue to push further to ensure that Black lives matter.”

“As we have met with clergy and concerned Memphians, we understand that there’s a strong desire for change to policing in Memphis,” Smith said. “And as an administration, we agree that change must happen.”

As a result of the meetings, Smith said the city has identified “swift and immediate action that we can take to improve outcomes for MPD and the citizens that we serve.”

Those actions include:

• MPD updated its policies to include the sentiment of “8 Can’t Wait”

• Made improvements to the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), including enhancing communication with the public, providing training for CLERB members and staff, and reviewing the request for members to have subpoena powers

• Started posting board opportunities on the city website

• Began discussions with the Memphis Police Association to look for opportunities to strengthen language in the memoranda of understanding between the city and association to ensure that officers will be held accountable when using excessive force

• Looking to partner with community activists to improve implicit bias, cultural awareness, and cultural diversity training for MPD officers

Clergy Disappointed by Officials’ Reform Steps

A group of Black clergy members said they were “surprised and upset” by city officials’ press conference in which they laid out steps to reform the Memphis Police Department (MPD).

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told the public Thursday that over the past four weeks his administration has been meeting with clergy members and other concerned citizens to discuss ways to improve the MPD.

However, a number of clergy members who participated in the meetings said in a statement Friday that a consensus had not been reached. They also called meetings with officials “frustrating” and “disappointing.”

“As African-American clergy who participated in the meetings, we found the discussions to be frustrating and disappointing overall, characterized largely by those who represent the power structures of Memphis claiming that the processes in place are sufficient,” the statement reads.

“The five reforms presented to us June 24th, the date of the last meeting, stopped far short of the substantive changes we had requested in calling for a reimagined police department. Though the administration couched these reforms as an agreement, we did not, in fact, agree to them. Rather, they demonstrated to us the administration’s lack of courage and appetite for making Memphis truly more equitable for all.”

The statement is signed by Gina Stewart, Revs. Stacy Spencer, Keith Norman, Melvin Watkins, Earle Fisher, J. Lawrence Turner, and Chris Davis, as well as Bishops Ed Stephens Jr. and Linwood Dillard.

The clergy members also noted that none of those who were involved in the meetings were invited to Thursday’s press conference and were not aware that it was taking place.

  • Facebook/Rhodes College

Rhodes and Baptist Partner for COVID Prevention

Running a college is a tough business at the best of times. But in the midst of a global pandemic, ensuring the health and safety of all students is of paramount importance both on and off school grounds. With that in mind, Rhodes College is pursuing a partnership with Baptist Memorial Health Care to create a thorough prevention plan for the 2020-21 school year.

Baptist will assist Rhodes with developing and implementing a safety protocol, which will have five key areas of focus: prevention, symptom monitoring, testing, care and tracing, and a resource center.

“As we began planning for the fall semester, our planning committees quickly identified the need for additional healthcare resources,” says Rhodes College president Marjorie Hass. “This relationship with Baptist will provide our campus with resources normally found at a large research university with an academic medical center. Most importantly, our students, faculty, and staff will be supported and cared for by physicians and providers from one of the nation’s top integrated healthcare networks.”


Report Shows More Tennesseans are Depressed, Anxious
Tennesseans are showing more signs of anxiety and depression as the coronavirus pandemic continues, according to a recent report by a sociologist at East Tennessee State University.

The results are based on the most recent Tennessee Poll, an annual poll conducted by ETSU’s Applied Social Research Lab (ASRL), which is led by Kelly Foster.

The poll found that for the week of April 22nd through May 1st, 35 percent of respondents had symptoms of anxiety and 27 percent had symptoms of depressive disorder.

More specifically, 50 percent of respondents reported trouble sleeping in the week prior to the poll, while 53 percent reported feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge that week. Forty-three percent felt lonely.

When thinking about the coronavirus, 18 percent of respondents reported having physical reactions, such as sweating, trouble breathing, or a pounding heart.

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