Includes mask mandates; however, notes that "all options are still on the table"
The City of Memphis/Shelby County Joint COVID-19 Task Force gave a press conference at noon on Thursday, July 29. Presenting were City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen, infectious disease expert Dr. Nick Hysmith, and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
Chief McGowen started off with some statistics indicating where the county stands in the pandemic:
- 408 new COVID cases were reported yesterday
- That brings the 7-day rolling average of new cases per day to just under 300
- The positivity rate is 14%, meaning that 14 of every 100 people tested have COVID
- The reproduction rate is currently 1.46. That means if 2 people in Shelby County have COVID, they are likely to transmit it to 3 additional people.
- There have been 23 deaths attributed to COVID in Shelby County in the past 7 days. In the 7 days before that, there were 12 deaths.
- Currently in the county, there are 279 COVID hospitalizations, with 81 in the ICU and about half of the ICU cases on ventilators. Two weeks ago, there were 115 hospitalizations, an increase of about 250%.
As for vaccine status, McGowen reported that the county has administered 748,000 vaccines. 415,000 residents have had at least one dose and 338,000 are fully vaccinated.
McGowen announced that the city-run vaccine site at the Pipkin Building will not close at the end of this month as planned. It will remain open through at least August to offer easy, convenient, drive-thru service.
Concierge-level service will come door-to-door in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates and high numbers of cases of COVID. If staff knock on a door and the resident indicates they would like a vaccine, someone will be there to administer one in no more than 2 hours.
McGowen urged citizens to call 901-RIDE-901 if they need free transportation to a vaccine site and then home. He also commented that there are partnerships in place with local pastors who want to bring pop-up vaccine clinics to their congregations.
There is also plenty of free testing available, McGowen said, most notably at the Lamar drive-thru site at RKS Commercial Cove.
Dr. Nick Hysmith came up to offer his view as a doctor on the ground, in the hospital. He noted that COVID cases had generally been less severe in the pediatric population, but the health community is watching to see if that changes with the Delta variant.
Hysmith said that what is different from several months ago is that hospitals are already strained with other illnesses, conditions, and traumas. Adding a large number of COVID cases adds additional strain.
Mayor Harris took the podium next, filling in for County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph, who could not be present. Harris noted that the CDC has updated its guidelines, recommending masking, even for those who are fully vaccinated, in the following cases:
- You're in a public, indoor, crowded area, and you don't know the vaccination status of the other people in the room;
- You know you're going to be around someone who has an underlying compromised immune condition.
Mayor Harris said the next health directive, to be issued Wednesday, August 4, will have its wording updated to reflect the CDC guidance, spelling out exactly when citizens are urged to wear masks. At this time, however, said Mayor Harris, there are no plans to bring back COVID restrictions or mandates - although, Harris noted, no options are completely off the table.
In response to a question - A fully vaccinated person may ask, I got vaccinated, so why should I have to wear a mask? - Dr. Hysmith responded. He said that although the COVID vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting seriously ill from the Delta variant, they are less effective from keeping you from getting a mild case - "sore throat, runny nose." A mask will help prevent those mild cases. It will also prevent you from spreading the virus to someone who is unvaccinated and might get seriously ill. This is especially important, Hysmith said, since children under 12 have had no chance to receive the vaccine yet.
McGowen closed by reminding everyone to get vaccinated and that they'd be back Thursday, August 5 at noon with another update.
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