New health directive with ‘recommendations’ coming this week

Published: May. 11, 2021 at 1:29 PM CDT|Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 1:30 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris began Tuesday’s Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing teasing the new health directive coming this week.

Harris read an excerpt from the last health directive issued in April that said if the county avoided another surge, the new directive would shift all remaining pandemic mandates to recommendations, including the mask mandate.

Harris said the case count has stabilized while the vaccination count is going up, and cases have remained consistent over the last two months.

The task force did not give any other details about the upcoming directive, which is expected to go into effect this weekend.

Doug McGowen, chief operating officer of the City of Memphis, said Shelby County hasn’t quite made it to vaccinating 30 percent of the population, but some neighboring counties are now above 40 percent.

According to the health department, 325,640 people have received vaccines in Shelby County and 237,736 are now fully vaccinated.

McGowen and David Sweat, chief of epidemiology and deputy director of the health department, said the only reason Shelby County has avoided another major surge is because of the 325,000-plus people who have received vaccines.

The Shelby County Health Department reported 79 new cases Tuesday and two more deaths, bringing the county’s toll to 96,863 cases and 1,632 deaths since the start of the pandemic. It’s one of the lowest increases in recent weeks, but it’s also based on weekend testing, which tends to be one of the lowest testing days of the week.

There are currently 1,566 active cases in Shelby County.

Sweat referenced the B1617 variant found amid the India surge that the World Health Organization declared a global variant of concern. The same variant was found in Shelby County two weeks ago in a person who traveled to India and became ill upon their return. Sweat said the variant was isolated and has not spread in the county.

The UK variant remains the dominant variant in Shelby County, Sweat said, adding that it’s more contagious and more lethal than other variants.

Vaccinations for children 12 and older were a big focus of Tuesday’s briefing after the FDA granted emergency approval for the younger teens. McGowen said final approval is expected Wednesday, then Shelby County will offer the vaccine by Thursday.

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