Health leaders ponder masks, as more variants are found in Shelby County

New vaccine site opening in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A COVID-19 variant playing a role in a massive surge in cases and deaths in India has been spotted in Shelby County.

That’s just one more issue for health officials to weigh when deciding what to do with the county’s mask mandate.

So far there has only been one report of the B1617 variant- the variant causing issues in India right now.

As for the mask mandate, there’s a chance we’ll know what is written in the next health directive by next week.

Throughout the pandemic, the Shelby County Health Department has updated health directives every two to four weeks, and that’s where we find rules on masks.

The next directive to be released is being written now. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has requested all mask mandate ends by Memorial Day.

“Any tweak or adjustments to anything in the health directive will come out in that next version including any changes to masking requirements,” Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat said.

India COVID-19 variant detected in Shelby County

Sweat is saying cases are still growing, even if they look like they’re plateauing since the reproduction rate is above one.

Shelby County is averaging around 150 cases a day. Between Wednesday and Thursday, WMC logged 175.

“The analogy I might have is a false flat. I’m a cyclist so sometimes the road looks flat, but you can feel it in your legs it’s not exactly flat,” Sweat said. “That’s kind of where we’re at. It looks flat, but there is a slight increase in cases because the reproductive rate is above one.”

There is still concern about variants.

The B1617 variant, which has been an issue in the COVID-19 surge in India, has been detected in Shelby County in a person who had recently traveled to the country.

Whatever the county decides about masks, Sweat said the health department and the state will always be partners in this pandemic.

“We are actually all trying to get all our citizens of Tennessee through this pandemic,” Sweat said.

Sweat said the vaccine will protect you from the worst side effects of the different variants like serious illness and death.

Shelby County has seen a slight increase in vaccine uptake this week, and a new vaccination location is opening on Jackson Ave.

The site at the Northgate Shopping Center at 3230 Jackson will offer Johnson and Johnson vaccines with no appointments.

This will be a walk-up clinic, not a drive-thru.

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