Shelby County Schools announced Tuesday (Aug. 10) that Supt. Dr. Joris Ray’s leadership team will now test weekly for coronavirus. Ray (pictured) said the testing is an added layer of protection as team members visit schools around the district. (Photo: SCS Twitter)

New and updated masking, testing and vaccine measures are being rolled out in Memphis and Shelby County in an intensified effort to check community spread of COVID-19 cases, particularly among children. 

There were 453 new case numbers reported Wednesday (Aug. 11) morning and three COVID-19 related deaths, according to the Shelby County Health Department.

Hundreds of new infections, mainly caused by the virus’ high transmissible Delta variant and unvaccinated residents, have consistently added to the numbers over the past two weeks.

 Shelby County is averaging 595 new COVID-19 cases per day and 1,709 vaccinations per day, according to the Health Department. County officials said recent new case counts mirror numbers not seen since January.

There were 519 new cases reported Tuesday (Aug. 10); 546 and three deaths Monday (Aug. 9); 789 and one death Sunday (Aug. 8); 727 and nine deaths Saturday (Aug. 7); 549 cases Friday (Aug. 6) and 623 new cases Thursday (Aug. 5).

“I was looking at some past numbers that tell us exactly where we are,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Health Department medical officer. “On June 17, the seven-day average was 47. Sunday, Aug. 8, our seven-day rolling average was 564.

“On June 17, the new cases were 78; Aug. 8, 546. On June 17, there were 357 active cases. On Aug. 8, there were 6,056. That gives you a clear picture of where we are headed.”

Randolph said those who have been vaccinated, as well as those who have not, should be wearing masks inside public spaces. 

Because of a high percentage of one age group that has not taken the vaccine, children have been put at higher risk for catching COVID-19.

“A very high percentage of new case numbers are in the 18-44 age group,” said Randolph. “Many in this age group have not been vaccinated, they are the most active, the most mobile, and they are raising small children. They not only put themselves at risk, but they endanger their children as well. We continue to ask them to take the vaccination.”

The number of children sick with COVID at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital has more than doubled in a week. As of Tuesday (Aug. 10), 17 children were hospitalized, including six in critical care. One child waited in the emergency room for an open bed. Of the more than 6,000 active cases, 25 percent – 1,500 – are pediatric cases.

A masking mandate from the Shelby County Health Department for all employees, staff and school in-door classes has received some pushback from parents, especially in some Collierville parents. Some of those parents made their anti-masking feelings known at Monday’s (Aug. 9) Shelby County Commission meeting and outside a Collierville school. 

Collierville school district officials initially said the district would not enforce the Health Department’s school-masking mandate. After meeting with county health officials and attorneys, however, Collierville Schools will enforce the Health Department’s mask requirement for schools, the district said Monday afternoon. 

“Effective immediately, any Collierville Schools student who refuses to wear a mask/face covering at school will be sent home,” district spokesperson Mario Hogue wrote in an emailed statement. “As a reminder, the only permissible exemption to the mask mandate is an ADA-approved disability.”

Daily new case numbers continue to alarm Shelby County health officials as community spread accelerates, unchecked by efforts to mitigate increasing infections.

Shelby County Schools announced Tuesday (Aug. 10) that Supt. Dr. Joris Ray’s leadership team is taking extra steps for COVID-19 safety. 

The executive leadership team will now test weekly for coronavirus. Ray says the testing is an added layer of protection for his team as members visit schools around the district. Ray and his entire cabinet are fully vaccinated.

SCS is also encouraging employees and student families to take advantage of free voluntary testing that will be done on a rotational schedule throughout the school year.  

More than a thousand students were tested on the first day of class this week. 

Shelby County Government will begin requiring regular asymptomatic testing for unvaccinated Shelby County employees whose occupations place them at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19, beginning with employees of the Shelby County Health Department. 

The regular testing program will expand to other county employees in the coming weeks, it was reported.

Regional One Health and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Monday. The mandates for both systems will go into effect on Oct. 31, leaving employees several weeks to become inoculated against COVID-19. 

Southwest Tennessee Community College (STCC) officials reinstated the mask mandate Aug. 4. All students, employees, and visitors to Southwest locations are required to wear face coverings while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The only exceptions are when employees who are working in a private office, or dining. The mandate does not apply to outdoors. Classes will resume on Monday, Aug. 23.

In Shelby County, 431,699 people have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. That number is 61.7 percent of the way toward the 700,000 vaccinated goal.

Vaccinations are still being offered free at Christ Community Health Center locations, area pharmacies, healthcare providers, Walgreens, and CVS pharmacies.