MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - States are seeing a fourth wave of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Some of that is due to the increase in mutant strains. In Shelby County, health officials are trying to prevent that by containing a new variant strain in the community.
The UK strain is on its way to being the main strain in Shelby County, but we also have cases of the highly-transmissible Brazilian strain which, if not kept contained, could take us into a fourth wave of this pandemic.
“We want to be done with the virus, but the virus is not done with us,” said Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Manoj Jain.
Variant strains of the COVID-19 virus are often named after the countries where they were first detected. We’ve seen cases of the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants in Shelby County. In fact, 30 to 50 percent of all cases here are the UK variant or B117 strain.
So far there have been four cases of the Brazilian strain or P1, but health officials are working to keep it from reaching community transmission like the UK variant has. They said the strain is 200 percent more contagious than the original virus.
“There’s another trait to the P1 which is worrisome, that it can evade the vaccine and if you have had previous infections it can cause reinfection,” said Jain.
Jain said the vaccine maybe 50 percent less effective in protecting against the P1 strain than others, but could still protect against serious illness.
Shelby County Health officials aren’t saying we’re approaching a fourth wave of cases yet, but there are indicators. Those include an increase in hospitalizations, case positivity rate jumping one percent to 4.3 percent and our reproductive rate reaching above one.
“We’re above one which means each case is creating one new case. In other words, we’re growing the epidemic,” said Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat.
A safe holiday weekend may help us skirt any kind of surge in cases.
Health officials continue to say getting vaccinated is still your top line of defense. Well over 300,000 people will have started their vaccinations in Shelby County going into the Easter holiday. That includes around 100,000 people fully vaccinated.
Doctors said an increase in vaccinations going into the Easter weekend will help relax some gatherings.
“Vaccination is the key to bring life back to normal,” said Jain.
The CDC has said if everyone at a gathering is fully vaccinated you can forego masks. As work continues to reach herd immunity locally, if you do not know if everyone is vaccinated at a gathering masks and social distancing are still needed.
For Easter, health officials are still recommending alternative faith-based services.
“First, outdoor services are much safer than indoor services,” said Sweat.
Public vaccination sites are scheduled to be closed Friday through Monday because the city is set to run out of vaccines in time for its next shipment of doses.
Officials said that the schedule may change depending on the availability of vaccines.
You can look for open vaccination appointments HERE.