Shelby County COVID-19 task force holds first briefing in weeks amid uptick in cases


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After a four-week hiatus, the Memphis and Shelby County Joint COVID Task Force held a briefing because cases are heading in the wrong direction.

“We stopped these briefings about a month ago and said if things changed substantially, we would be back, and we are back,” said City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen.

McGowen says what’s changed is the rising number of COVID cases attributed to the Delta variant. There were 259 new cases reported Wednesday in Shelby County. There have been 102,502 total COVID-19 cases.

The seven-day average is 174 cases. A month ago, that number was 22 cases, Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said.

“It’s driving our new daily case rate to approximately four times what it was one month ago today,” McGowen said. “Our positivity rate with tests is about double what it was and our hospitalizations are up pretty dramatically.”

Last month at this time Shelby County had only 50 people in the hospital and 13 in the ICU. As of Thursday, there are now 162 people in the hospital with COVID and 56 patients in the ICU. Many of them are on ventilators.

“That’s all the more critical because our hospitals are already feeling the pressure of other conditions besides COVID and causing our ICU’s to be 96 percent utilized,” McGowen said.

There have been 458 “breakthrough cases,” in which a vaccinated person contracted COVID. Two of those resulted in death.

Randolph said unvaccinated patients make up 88% of hospitalizations for COVID. Vaccinated people who do get COVID are less likely to get severe symptoms, Randolph said.

“It ain’t ‘Are we going to go back to the days of stay at home and closing businesses?’ That’s not the issue,” Randolph said. “This is issue can easily be resolved by more people rolling up their sleeves and receiving the shot.”

Masks are not mandated in Shelby County, but Randolph recommended them in indoor spaces where you might not know the vaccine status of those around you.

When asked whether schools should require students to wear masks, he said he thinks it’s an “individual decision.”

“Some schools are choosing to not require masks and others are,” Randolph said.

The City of Memphis is supporting a back-to-school event for SCS students at the Pipkin Building from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on July 31. They’ll be offering COVID-19 vaccinations for those eligible, immunizations, school supplies, uniforms and haircuts.

This week, a planned emergency overflow hospital for COVID-19 patients in Memphis was decommissioned without ever being used.

This came just as Methodist Hospitals expanded their COVID units to handle a surge of new cases.

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