MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Just as Memphis and Shelby County had seen daily new cases of COVID-19 drop, a neighboring county could potentially be the country’s new hotspot for new cases.
According to the New York Times COVID Tracker, Tipton County, Tennessee had the highest 14-day increase in COVID cases in the country.
Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Hospital in Memphis, said there could several factors why.
It’s believed Tipton County numbers have gone up because of low vaccination rates and because of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible and deadly.
“It’s certainly been the case that more rural counties all around the country, certainly in our region of the country, have had a lower vaccination rate,” Threlkeld said.
State of Tennessee data showed Tipton, Gibson and Davidson counties were seeing large increases in COVID cases. It also reported Tipton, along with Shelby, Fayette and six other Tennessee counties, are among the nine hotspots in the state per capita.
“More rural counties have a lower density of physicians, for sure, and of hospitals, to be sure,” Threlkeld said.
The rise in cases should be a concern for neighboring counties.
“We can’t deny it puts us in a bad situation,” Threlkeld said. “Being unvaccinated in larger numbers is just a magnification effect that we don’t want to see right now with a more contagious variant.”
But he says slowing the spread of the virus and variant are preventable.
“It is very exasperating for healthcare workers that essentially almost every death that we watch is a preventable death, whether you’re from Tipton County or Shelby County or wherever,” he said.
Threlkeld said healthcare workers must do a better job of getting vaccines that save lives to those in rural communities, to help avoid a problem that could only get worse.
“Unfortunately because we are surrounded by states and counties that are very poorly vaccinated relative to the rest of the country, we are in the crosshairs of the problem that’s coming, however big it turns out to be,” he said.