County officials stress need for vaccine as COVID-19 cases creep up again


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Only about 35% of Shelby County’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and health department leaders say that disparity is leading to an increase in cases, especially among younger people ages 18-24.

The county reported 183 new cases Thursday. While that’s well below the peak reached early this year, the trend line is moving in the wrong direction — up.

As the Delta variant spreads through the area, making up about 72% of local cases, the county’s health department is concerned about people not getting vaccinated.

That’s higher than what we’re seeing nationally. The CDC reports the delta variant accounts for 58% of all US infections.

“This virus is being transmitted . . . to those who are not vaccinated,” said health director Dr. Bruce Randolph.

So far there are 203 suspected or confirmed Delta Variant cases, Randolph said. Of those, 18 are breakthrough cases, meaning that fully vaccinated people came down with it.

About 40% of Shelby County’s population remains vulnerable to COVID-19, either because they are unvaccinated adults or because they are too young to receive the vaccine, local health officials said. The seven-day average test positivity rate is up to almost 9%, three times what it was two weeks ago, Randolph said.

“You either get vaccinated or you get COVID. Those are your choices,” Randolph said.

Officials are holding a back to school vaccination even this weekend. Right now, 22% of children between 12 and 15 are vaccinated.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said volunteers will be knocking on doors in Berclair this weekend, and in local jails, trying to convince the public of the importance of getting the shot. The county is not allowed by state law to mandate the vaccine.

We asked Harris if we could see restrictions implemented again if cases continue to climb.

“I don’t think we are at that part of the conversation yet,” Harris said. “I think right now we want to sound the alarm and convince people to get vaccinated.”

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