MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As tens of thousands of people continue to get vaccinated in Shelby County, health officials warn we’re still months away from herd immunity.
They’re now looking at the possibility of a new variant of COVID-19, a more transmissible strain found in the United Kingdom, possibly finding its way into the community.
This variant has already been found in Tennessee, but health officials in Shelby County said a specimen possibly matching what people are calling the UK strain, the B117 strain, has been found locally.
They said all that means is we need to stay the course by masking, social distancing, isolating when sick and getting vaccinated.
“We now have a highly suspicious case that may represent the first Shelby County diagnosis of a person with the highly transmissible strain B117 coming from the United Kingdom,” said Shelby County Deputy Director David Sweat.
To know for sure, the specimen is being sent to the Tennessee Department of Health and possibly to the Centers for Disease Control for confirmation. The Memphis Shelby County COIVD-19 Task Force said it has a plan in place if it is the variant focused on aggressive investigation and contact tracing.
“What we’re doing right now is getting all the information from this patient,” said Sweat.“So if we find out it is we have all the information we need.”
Sweat said the variant has shown to be about three times more transmissible, but not more deadly.
Even if a new variant enters the community, health officials said get vaccinated when it’s time. Right now more than 62,000 people are vaccinated which is about seven percent of what’s needed to reach herd immunity.
“These measures will be important whether the variant is present or not. We have made progress. Good progress,” said Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph.
Tennessee has opened up vaccination appointments to those 70 and older in most counties, but not in Shelby County. Health officials said they still have many more people 75 and up and those in the first two priority groups to get through before more age groups are eligible.
They say those in the 70 and older age group may be eligible by the end of the month.
To see the state’s vaccine distribution plan click here.