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Accounting for troubling factors, county health officials express cautious optimism about dip in COVID-19 cases

Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Michelle Taylor led off this week’s virtual briefing by the Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force with statistical evidence that every local COVID-19 trend indicator is moving in the right direction.

However, Taylor did express concerns about two troubling factors: hospitalizations remain extremely high, and pediatric cases are up by 81 over what they were last week.

Taylor, who said that the stress on hospitals was already overwhelming, encouraged those who want to be tested for COVID-19 to avoid going to hospital emergency rooms. Instead, she pitched testing at pharmacies and drive-thru testing sites reopened by the Health Department.

The briefing was held on Thursday, with Taylor presenting these stats:

“As of January 20, there are 21,251 active cases of COVID-19, as opposed to 27,301 last week. … The average daily total is 1,699, down from over 2,000 for the past few weeks. The positivity rate is 30.1 percent, which is down from last week’s 36.6 percent, and significantly lower than the 42.2 percent in prior weeks.”

Doug McGowen

Doug McGowen, Memphis’ chief operating officer, mirrored Taylor’s concern about hospitalizations.

“The number of patients hospitalized has hit a plateau of 760, but that is still a huge number,” McGowen said. “It’s the highest number of people we’ve ever had hospitalized for the longest period of time.”

The pressure on hospital ICUs and acute care beds remains extremely high, McGowen said.

“So, the emergency room is not the place to go for testing, even if you are exhibiting symptoms,” said McGowan. “You will feel like hell, but not sick enough to go to the emergency room.”

Health officials said the milder, less severe symptoms of the Omicron variant should be managed at home in a five-day quarantine.

Taylor thanked Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris for the county’s recent acquisition of 90,000 at-home, rapid test kits, adding that they will be distributed equitably.

Taylor also announced that federal officials have ruled that all schools covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act must have a mask mandate in place. Asked about the decision of Germantown Municipal School District officials to drop their mask mandate, Taylor indicated that the federal mandate would supersede any local ruling.

“We are under a federal injunction in Shelby County that says schools covered by the ADA are required to have masks,” she said.

Taylor said the county is closing in on its vaccination goal, which is to reach herd immunity of 700,000.

Taylor noted that 70.1 percent of the Shelby County population had taken at least one dose of a vaccine.

“Of the total number of those getting vaccines, 60.7 percent have been fully vaccinated. We continue to encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated, and get additional protection with a booster shot.”

During a special weekend event, the Health Department is sponsoring vaccinations at the Cooper Young Farmers Market, located in First Congregational Church, 1000 Cooper Street. First, second and booster shots will be administered on a walk-in basis. No appointment is needed.

Dr. Bruce Randolph

After Thursday’s briefing, Shelby County Health Department Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph told The New Tri-State Defender that the summer looks very hopeful for Shelby County.

“We are hoping that by the summer, we will be managing COVID like the flu, if there is not another variant,” Randolph said.

Omicron is the dominant variant, officials said, now accounting for 98 percent of COVID-19 cases.

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