MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County is “on the precipice of a fourth wave,” according to the Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force.
David Sweat, Shelby County chief of epidemiology, says the reproductive rate has increased to 1.14, meaning every one person with the virus creates more than one new case.
“We know that in fact the epidemic is growing,” Sweat said during Tuesday’s task force briefing. “That is what we’re concerned about.”
Shelby County’s reproductive rate has twice dropped below 1, Sweat said -- first last July after the initial mask order was issued and again after the major case spike during the holidays.
Sweat said the reproductive rate stayed below 1 for most of January and through part of March until cases again started increasing.
The U.K. variant has been the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Shelby County for some time now. The U.K variant is 50-percent more transmissible and 30-percent more lethal; however, Sweat said the vaccine still protects from serious illness or death.
He also urged people to continue wearing masks in group settings and in public. He said they’d prefer to appeal to common sense and good judgment than enforce restrictions that draw complaints.
Doug McGowen, City of Memphis chief operating officer, said any time the reproductive rate is above 1, the community is “on the precipice of a fourth wave.”
McGowen urged people to take advantage of vaccines that are now readily available. He said demand for the vaccine has dropped by nearly 10,000 doses a week. While the county has the capacity to deliver 60,000 doses each week, we’re averaging just 20,000 right now -- down from about 30,000 a few weeks ago.
McGowen said the incentives given to vaccine recipients last week helped boost numbers a bit, but not as much as they’d hoped. Thousands of people who went to the Pipkin Building last Friday and Saturday received gift cards to Kroger or Walmart. McGowen says they distributed $100,000 worth of gift cards between the two days.
On Tuesday, Shelby County logged its first day with less than 100 new COVID-19 cases in nearly two weeks, but Sweat said the low number is the result of low testing over the weekend. Tuesday’s total was based on Saturday testing.
The health department reported just 65 cases Tuesday, bringing the county’s total to 93,960 since the start of the pandemic.
There were no additional deaths reported; 1,599 Shelby Countians have died from the virus.
There are 1,734 active COVID-19 cases in Shelby County, according to health department data.
Prior to Tuesday, Shelby County reported more than 100 new cases each day for 12 consecutive days, indicating to health leaders a possible surge and fourth wave approaching.
Data shows the weekly average over the course of the last three weeks going from about 100 to 130 and finally 169 last week. The most weekly test positivity rate was 6.1 percent, increasing nearly each week since the beginning of March.
Nearly 295,000 people have received vaccinations in Shelby County with almost 185,000 people now fully vaccinated.
Visit covid19.memphistn.gov to find a vaccine provider or make an appointment.
On Tuesday, a vaccination site opened in Frayser at Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Gill Center. It’s open without appointments Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.