TSD freelance photographer Tyrone P. Easley gets his shot as Memphis Fire Department personnel administered COVID-19 vaccinations at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood, 620 Parkrose Ave., last Thursday (April 8). (Courtesy photo)

Despite a significant rise in daily rates this week, the COVID-19 numbers are still encouraging and some restrictions will be eased, according to a Shelby County Health Department official.

“Last week, we enjoyed some pretty great daily case numbers in the 50s,” said Health Department Medical Director Dr. Bruce Randolph. “Monday (April 12), there were 196 new cases, and Tuesday’s (April 13) number was 148.

“When you consider that we just got through spring break and the Easter holiday, we are still in pretty good shape, in my opinion.”

The Health Department reported 148 new cases Wednesday and one new death.

Two other factors made officials appreciate this week’s numbers even more.

“When you consider that we not only are dealing with variants, but that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been placed on hold, these numbers are still very good,” Randolph said.

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood is one of a number of churches in predominantly African-American communities sponsoring a COVID-19 vaccination site. Memphis Fire Department personnel staff is administering vaccines on behalf of the city. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

The B117 European strain is now the dominant strain in Shelby County. Mutation of the original virus occurs because the virus is trying to survive. 

Randolph said a loosening of restrictions is in order, as long as “everyone continues to wear a mask in public, and keep hands clean.

“A new health directive will go into effect on Saturday, April 17.

Dancing will be allowed, both in doors and outside, but people must stay six feet apart from other dancers. Buffets can reopen and diners may serve themselves, as long as they first use hand sanitizer.”

Festivals are a “go” as well.  Masking still is required with the new directive, as well as social distancing, and frequent washing or sanitizing of hands.

City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowan said at Tuesday’s news conference that those who have taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not worry. 

Federal health officials “paused” the use of the J & J vaccine, following the launch of an investigation into why six women developed serious blot-clotting issues. One of the women died from the complication after receiving the vaccine.

“More than 17,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in Shelby County,” said McGowan. “There have been no reports that anyone experienced severe adverse side effects locally.”

As the new health directive takes effect, Randolph warned that Shelby Countians should not get complacent and stop taking the actions that continues to keep most people safe.

“Although, this new health directive will allow some relaxation of the rules, we must be diligent in wearing masks and using social distancing in public,” said Randolph. “We are encouraged by young people getting vaccinated, but our challenge is to compel more of them to do so.”

The Health Department’s Randolph called young people between the ages of 18-24 a “crucial demographic” because they tend to socialize more and may put vulnerable populations at risk without the vaccination.

“There is also a remote possibility of still contracting the virus after being vaccinated,” Randolph said. “If the vaccines are 95 percent effective, there is still that five percent which may get infected. We have had a very few cases of that happening.”

Although the Johnson & Johnson, one-shot vaccine cannot be used at this time, there is still plenty of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses available. Randolph said there is especially a large quantity of the Pfizer substance. 

According to the Shelby County Health Department website, overall numbers show that African Americans account for 56 percent of the reported COVID cases, while 31 percent are Caucasian. “Other” accounts for the remaining 13 percent.

The number of Shelby Countians who have been fully vaccinated is 149,994. Those who have received their first shot total 266,298. 

There have been 92,725 total cases in the county since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 90,000 are now inactive or recovered, and 1,585 people have died.