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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Shelby County health experts warn elective surgeries could be limited if COVID-19 hospitalizations don't stabilize soon

Memphis area hospitals set a record high this week for COVID-19 patients.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — "The hospital system is stretched, no question about it," Dr. Scott Strome with UT Health Science Center said.

Shelby County health experts sounded the alarm Wednesday as area hospitals take in a growing number of COVID-19 patients, including those in the ICU and needing ventilators.

"We are approaching a number where we are going to have to start to change things," Dr. Strome said.

Dr. Strome said that change could mean delaying - for a short time or indefinitely - certain medical procedures to keep up with COVID-19 demand.

"We will really need to look at decreasing elective surgeries or eliminate elective surgeries," Dr. Strome sid.

Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Memorial Hospital looked to ease those concerns Wednesday. He said available area hospital beds still fluctuate a lot each day and that earlier COVID-19 crises in other parts of the country gave Shelby County more time to anticipate.

"I have think we have done relatively well to date - in terms of medical preparedness. We have a lot of ability to expand but we have to remain concerned," Dr. Threlkeld said.

While hospital capacity for COVID-19 is growing in Shelby County, so to is demand for COVID-19 testing.

Christ Community Health Services - which oversees six testing sites in Shelby County - said their testing demand was 94% of their nearly 1600 tests last week, and demand doubled overall the past weeks.

Tuesday, Christ Community Health Services CEO Shantelle Leatherwood said some their sites eventually ran out of available tests and staff had to refer people to other testing options.

While Leatherwood said she's working with a team to expand testing capacity from the current amount of nearly 1600 tests a week, more tests also bring on more challenges elsewhere. 

"The question is, do we really have the ability to increase the testing because of the demand on the system overall," Leatherwood said.

Those with the Shelby County Health Department met with state leaders Wednesday about options to expand testing, especially in ZIP codes with a higher percentage of positive cases.

An update on those plans is expected Thursday or Friday.

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