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Shelby County marks 18 months of pandemic with new grim milestone

Published: Sep. 18, 2021 at 2:27 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s been 18 months since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Shelby County.

While people are once gathering in large crowds for football games and festivals, new numbers show why there’s still plenty of reasons to worry, especially for children.

This week, Shelby County reached a grim milestone: More than 20,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among school-age children since the pandemic began.

More than 2,700 cases occurred in the last two weeks.

Those numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health also show more than 189,000 students statewide have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, including 25,000 in the last two weeks.

On top of this, a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows Tennessee has the highest rate of cumulative child cases (nearly 14,000 cases per 100,000 children) in the nation.

Children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated.

“The last month we’ve seen cases really just skyrocket,” said Dr. Jason Yaun, a Memphis pediatrician and vice-president of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics .

Both the national and state chapters support mandatory masking in Tennessee schools.

“We all think that the best option is in-person learning,” said Yaun. “Masking is the most effective and simplest mitigation effort to allow for that.”

On Friday, a federal judge indefinitely blocked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order in Shelby County, which allowed parents to opt their kids out of masks at school.

The governor believes parents should have the final say about whether their children wear masks at school.

In her ruling issuing a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge Sheryl Lipman countered that argument, saying universal masking requirements don’t significantly impact the rights of parents “any more than would a uniform policy or requiring that students receive certain vaccinations before attending school.”

It’s a temporary victory for the families and medical experts who support masks at school, but a sharp divide remains over the issue.

The virus has killed more than 1,900 people in Shelby County over the last 18 months, according to the Shelby County Health Department.

Deaths among children have been relatively low.

The AAP shows 16 child deaths in Tennessee; 7 in Mississippi; and 3 in Arkansas.

“I think it is time when you’re talking about 18 months and that degree of death where people look back and reflect and see what’s happened, look and see what the data has shown us and what is the correct course of action and behavior to try to get us out of it,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist with Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis.

Threlkeld says getting out of the pandemic won’t be easy.

He says some form of the virus will likely remain with us.

“This virus will probably become less and less severe and will become one of those things that society just tolerates much like the flu,” said Threlkeld.

In the meantime, doctors encourage people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those most vulnerable, like children.

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