Pandemic indicators on the decline week over week in Shelby County

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:52 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There may be a small light starting to appear at the end of the tunnel. After two months of surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations the numbers are starting to come back down.

For now there are no plans to loosen any masking requirements.

On Thursday Shelby County was averaging 399 new COVID-19 cases a day. That’s down by several hundred compared to a month ago.

“We continue to be cautiously optimistic,” Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said.

The same message week over week from the Shelby County Health Department as pandemic indicators slowly start their decline. This week the test positivity rate is at 10.6 percent which is down two percent from last week.

The reproduction rate is shrinking from over .9 last week to .82 this week. Hospitalizations are down by nearly 100 compared to last week, but still 455 people currently hospitalized in Shelby county with COVID-19.

Now, the message is stay the course.

“We also understand from our institutional knowledge of this virus and the idea that viruses can still mutate we have to remain vigilant,” Dr. Taylor said. “We have to keep mitigation measures in place. That includes keeping masking in place.”

“I think our level of tolerance for the numbers has been inflated because of the high numbers but 400 people in our hospitals is still an incredibly high number,” City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen said.

As of Thursday 2,009 people had died of the virus in 18 months. Dr. Taylor said 85 percent were not vaccinated.

The toolkit for fighting this virus is growing with vaccines protecting against serious illness and death and monoclonal antibodies proving successful in treating COVID-19.

So, on Thursday Dr. Taylor was asked why are people still dying?

“I think that I would be a rich woman if I could completely answer it,” Dr. Taylor said.

Taylor said the level of misinformation about the virus and vaccine is at an all-time high. She said the accurate messages are the vaccines protect you, if you become sick get tested early, if you’re COVID positive immediately ask your doctors about monoclonal antibodies.

“Some folks just decide that they don’t believe in any of it,” Taylor said. “They make the calculated decision to take the risk and not reach into that toolbox.”

Less than half of Shelby County is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Memphis officials said they’ve seen vaccine misinformation and hesitancy sink the demand for the shot locally.

On Tuesday the City of Memphis had to do something they were trying to avoid. They had to send 3,000 expired doses of the COVID-19 vaccine back to the state.

Those doses were part of an April Johnson and Johnson shipment that included 21,000 doses.

Memphis COO and head of the city’s vaccine program Doug McGowen said days after getting that shipment the CDC paused J and J use temporarily. Then, when shots were allowed to be administered days later vaccine hesitancy prevented all the doses to be used before their expire date this week.

About 487,000 people in Shelby County are at least partially vaccinated at this point. That’s 52 percent of the population.

You can also get a third shot if you are immunocompromised. Wednesday the FDA Pfizer approved booster shots for those over 65, but vaccine officials said they’re still waiting for direction from the state to start administering shots to that group.

“I would not if you’re 65 and up get in line today to go get your third shot,” McGowen said. “We expect later today or later this week additional guidance from the state. But you can bet we’ll put that word out immediately.”

For a list of vaccination location in Shelby County click here.

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