Health experts closely monitoring COVID-19 variant in Shelby County as health directive lifts more restrictions
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The numbers continue to dwindle. With just over 400 active COVID-19 cases in Shelby County, we’re at the lowest we’ve been since the first month of the pandemic.
This weekend a new health directive goes into effect loosening even more rules on masks and businesses.
The new health directive states if you are vaccinated or not you do not have to wear a mask in public unless a business requires it. It’s been nearly a month since the mask mandate was first loosened, and with 71 percent of adults in the county showing some sort of immunity to COVID-19, case numbers are heading in the right direction.
“We have come a very long way as a community,” Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat said. “We’ve come from a place where 937,000 were susceptible to this virus to a place where now 71 percent of adults aren’t and 15 percent of kids aren’t.”
As case numbers drop, with only 33 COVID-19 cases reported between Wednesday and Thursday, Shelby County Health Officials are maintaining the course of releasing new health directives every two to four weeks. Health Directive 22 goes into effect this weekend, about four weeks after the current health directive that lifted the mask mandate and some business restrictions.
Health Directive 22 does not require masking for anyone vaccinated or unvaccinated unless they are visiting a business that requires it, on public transit, in a courtroom where a judge requires it or on property where a public authority has a proprietary interest.
“If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask, if you feel safer wearing a mask do it,” Sweat said. “Wear the mask. There’s nothing about relaxing these requirements that prevents you from protecting yourself in the way you wish.”
It also relaxes business protocols even more. Things like putting up signs not to enter businesses if sick and regular disinfecting are just recommended practices.
However, the community may be susceptible to a new variant making the rounds in the U.S. Over the last several months, a new variant of COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc in India.
The Shelby County Health Department has reported ‘a few’ cases involving the Delta variant. The latest was reported only on Wednesday.
Vaccinations are starting to increase, and a strong sequencing program at local labs is helping keep an outbreak from happening, at least for now.
In May, a cluster of the variant was squashed in Shelby County after someone came back from India with it.
“We have a more robust sequencing capability that most communities in America and certainly in Tennessee,” Sweat said. “Meaning that a greater proportion of cases in Memphis and Shelby County will have their virus sequenced so we’ll know what version it is.”
Shelby County health leaders said the Delta variant is even more transmissible than the dominating UK variant of B117. Right now more than 71 percent of adults have some kind of immunity, but for these highly transmissible variants health experts explained herd immunity could mean more of the population needs to be immune.
“Probably about 85 percent of the population would have to have immunity for us to say okay that’s herd immunity for that virus because it’s just so easy to transmit,” Sweat said.
Daily vaccinations are increasing in Shelby County. On average, more than 1,500 people are getting the shot a day. That is up by about 500 people a day over the last two weeks.
The City of Memphis credits some of that success to the ongoing field team campaign.
“We have teams in the street going house to house sharing the message of the importance of vaccines,” City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen said.
The Pipkin Building will be the only fixed public vaccinated site come July, and it’s expected to close down on July 31. Public vaccinations will then move to the city’s emergency management building on Avery Ave for the rest of the summer.
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