Tennessee Health, Education commissioners hold briefing

Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 12:19 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Dr. Lisa Piercey and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn hosted a media briefing Friday afternoon.

Commissioner Piercey said she wanted to start with good news by saying Tennesseeans are responding to the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine doses are up 57 percent in the last three weeks.

Piercey says although vaccinations are up there is an increase in the amount of children becoming infected by the coronavirus.

“There’s a widespread narrative that the Delta variant preferentially infects kids or that it makes kids sicker and that’s just simply not true,” Piercey said.

Piercey says the Delta variant is highly contagious and, in comparison to the surge we saw last winter with the Alpha variant, the Delta variant is two to three times as transmissible.

“That’s the difference. We don’t have any evidence that it makes people sicker. We don’t have any evidence that it preferentially infects kids. What we do have evidence of is that all COVID viruses, coronaviruses, infect unvaccinated people more often. Well who is our largest population of unvaccinated people? It’s kids,” Piercey said.

Piercey also said that the increase in children with COVID-19 on top of the regularly expected summer infection is causing staffing and capacity issues.

“When you add COVID hospitalizations on top of that, that can be just enough to tip the scale sometimes,” Piercey said.

Commissioner Schwinn said there is a heavy focus on information from school districts and providing it to parents.

“Our goal right now is to have a safe and health school year,” Schwinn said.

Schwinn said balancing that urgency to provide high quality education while ensuring a safe in person school year is the primary goal of the department.