Health officials ending weekly COVID meetings but say Shelby County isn’t out of the woods yet


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County health officials announced they will be ending their regularly scheduled task force meeting effective Thursday, June 24.

While the numbers are heading in the right direction, lessening the need for weekly task force updates, health officials said there is still cause for concern moving forward.

According to Shelby County Deputy Health Director David Sweat, as of Thursday, there are roughly 300 active cases in Shelby County, with 92 of those being pediatric cases involving individuals who are not eligible for the vaccine.

Another concern for health officials is the Delta variant, which continues to spread in Shelby County. To date, 18 cases have been confirmed with over 119 people being classified as probable cases or contacts of cases. The number of clusters has also grown from two on June 9, to 16.

“Before those 300 to 350,000 people, half of them children, who have no immunity to the virus, and you come into contact with the Delta variant, you’re virtually guaranteed to get. It’s so contagious,” Sweat said.

Even though the overall numbers are heading in a positive direction, Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, says that’s not the case for neighboring states like Missouri and nearby metro counties. These numbers could grow rather quickly as vaccination rates around the metro area continue to see vaccination rates below 30 percent.

“The counties around us are below 30 percent and that’s what put more people at risk. They all take their services in the city of Memphis,” McGowen said.

With summer travel, it would be fairly easy to spread the more transmissible Delta variant, filling hospitals that are already in the 90 percent utilization range.

“So we do expect this summer could be rough for those people who are not vaccinated and also those folks who have not had prior infection,” Sweat said.

If there’s a surge of COVID cases, coupled with more people typically getting injured and sick during summer, Memphis hospitals would be strained.

“We really cannot afford to have a big surge of sick people in the hospital because of COVID. It would really strain our system,” McGowen said.

As for drive-thru vaccination sites, the Germantown and Whitehaven locations will be shutting down this week, and the Pipkin Building will close at the end of July. But a community clinic will be opening on Avery avenue.

“You’ll continue to be able to have a publicly provided vaccine for now through the end of September, and we will continue that or extend that if we need to if we see the demand go up or get a different direction from CDC or the state,” McGowen said.

Health officials encouraged those who have not been vaccinated to get the shot at their local doctor’s office or pharmacy.

“We recognize there’s a group of individuals who will not get a vaccine under any circumstance. So, given all of that, I feel very good about where we are as a community,” McGowen said. “My only hope we’d have a higher uptake of the vaccine.”

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