Surge in COVID cases increases push for more vaccinations

262 new COVID-19 cases reported in Shelby Co., health officials investigate surge

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - You could get paid to get your COVID-19 vaccine this weekend.

The City of Memphis is handing out tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards to those getting vaccinated at the Pipkin Building this weekend.

More than 3,000 vaccines can be administered at the mass vaccination site at the Pipkin building every day.

On Friday and Saturday, the first 2,500 people in line to get their shot will get a $20 Kroger or Walmart gift card. You do not need a reservation.

After going all day Wednesday allowing vaccinations without an appointment at the Pipkin Building, the City of Memphis has extended it to the rest of the week.

Wednesday’s event helped get more than 1,600 shots administered-- the second-highest at the site since the FEMA community vaccination center opened there last week.

Gift cards available for vaccinations this weekend in Memphis

“We’ve been hearing loud and clear that people don’t like being stuck to an appointment time,” Memphis Fire Director Gina Sweat said. “Anything we see or any adjustment we can make to make it easier for citizens to come in and get vaccinated that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

Health leaders want 700,000 Shelby County residents vaccinated by August.

Right now, nearly 284,000 have the vaccine. Vaccine administration is racing against the rise in COVID-19 cases.

More than 200 cases were reported between Wednesday and Thursday. At 262 cases reported in 24 hours, it was the first time since February we have had more than 200 cases recorded in 24 hours.

New data says the most vaccine uptake has been in the eastern part of Shelby County, and that is also where the fewest reports of variant cases have been.

“The vaccine protects against the variants,” Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat said.

On Friday, the Tigers spring football game will be happening next door to the Pipkin Building at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, and you can also get your shot there.

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The first 500 people to get their shot at the game will get a $10 concession voucher.

With the sudden surge in cases, health officials must determine if this is a sustainable wave or temporary.

The 262 cases is a major increase considering just a couple of weeks ago we were averaging about 100 cases a day.

“Is this a trend where we continue to see a higher level of cases or is it a blip where we’ll go back to lower levels,” Sweat said.

For weeks Sweat has said we’ve been avoiding the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, unlike other states.

Between last week and the week before the average cases per day in Shelby County grew by about 30 cases to around 130 a day.

Then a single day total leaping to over 260 cases between Wednesday and Thursday.

On one hand, Sweat said, things like Spring Break and Easter weekend could be causing a temporary hike.

“The other possibility is this is representing an increase and a continuation of an increase that started last week that has sustained,” Sweat said. “In that event it would mean we’re entering into a fourth wave.”

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Sweat will have to look at another week’s worth of data to know for sure.

Even with the arrival of more cases, the Shelby County Health Department continues to reevaluate all mandates, including the mask mandate, but the scrutiny will be high.

“The news of our latest data certainly causes us to pause and make sure we’re looking closely at things that can be relaxed and things we still need to have in place,” Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said.

A new health directive goes into place on Saturday allowing buffets to reopen and it allows indoor and outdoor dancing with social distancing.

If there are signs of a fourth wave, that directive may be changed.

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