MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The surge of COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant have both the Memphis city and Shelby County mayors urgently pleading with residents that more people get vaccinated.
For the first time in months, both Jim Strickland and Lee Harris appeared at the same time during the COVID task force briefing with a direct message to the unvaccinated and the unmasked.
“Yes, it’s your personal choice. It can’t be mandated, but your choice not to take a vaccine is adversely affecting everyone else,” Strickland said at the press conference.
All of this is taking place as the new Shelby County Health Department Director weighed in on the mask mandate debate in schools.
“The vaccine is more effective than masking or other mitigation strategies we’ve talked about in the last 18 months. In addition, I’d ask organizations to ramp up their efforts of vaccination among their constituencies,” Harris said at the briefing.
The mask mandate debate is taking center stage as Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton wants a special legislative session to ban the use of masks in schools.
However, the new Shelby County Health Department Director, Dr. Michelle Taylor, is firing back.
“We are seeing sicker children. We’re seeing children in ICU in a way we weren’t seeing at the beginning of the pandemic and we’re seeing some children die,” Taylor said.
Taylor says her agency has the legal authority to enforce a mask mandate.
“The Shelby County Health Department is well within the law to protect children at K-12 schools, pre-K, and daycares and one way we can protect them is asking everyone to wear a mask,” Taylor said.
The pandemic and the Delta variant are taking a toll on first responders as well. Fire Chief Gina Sweat spoke about the increased strain on emergency services.
“At this point in the pandemic our system is very, very stressed. Our first responders are running on fumes,” Sweat said.
She warned that if you call 911, expect delays.
“Many times a day, our system has no ambulance available, but we do have the ability to send engines and trucks to stabilize patients. What this does mean we could have a delayed response time to your home,” Sweat said.
Strickland says these problems could likely been avoided, including many recent COVID deaths, if only people had been vaccinated.
“Those 41 deaths in July and those 24 so far in August, almost all of them are preventable or were preventable. Get the vaccine,” Strickland said.
Strickland says the city’s “Our Best Shot” campaign continues in low vaccination areas, and the Pipkin Building remains open for people wanting to get their shots.