Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat details the latest reported numbers at the COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing on Thursday. (Screen capture)

Amid a safer-at-home order that extends to Jan. 22, word came Thursday of 613 new COVID-19 cases and a numbing 31 deaths in Shelby County.

Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat explained the high fatality number at the afternoon City of Memphis/Shelby County Joint COVID Task Force update.

“There were not 31 deaths reported in a 24-hour period,” Sweat said. “Those deaths extended from 12-11-20 to 01-05-21. We’re not exactly sure why, but the number represents a backlog of deaths being processed over the holiday break.

“It could be that the medical examiner had to certify the deaths. We just aren’t quite sure what happened.”

Half-way into the month-long Health Directive 16, Safer At Home, the numbers are still not reflecting the decrease health officials had hoped for.

“There are only 15 more days in the directive,” said Shelby County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Bruce Randolph. “We are assessing the first 14 days of the directive to see whether or not the Safer At Home directive was effective and successful. That will let us know what action should be taken when it ends on Jan. 22.”

Despite eight business closures of violators and stronger enforcement of the directive, Randolph said Shelby County can do better with getting the number of new cases down.

Dr. Bruce Randolph

“There is nothing else we can do except to ask Shelby County residents to be responsible and compliant with the directive,” said Randolph. “Short of closing every thing down, we need everyone to do what the Safer At Home directive requires.”

Although it was announced that Shelby County was running out of vaccine, there are some doses left. They are being directed to nursing homes and congregate living facilities, Randolph said.

On Monday, officials announced closure of the two COVID-19 vaccine sites this week. Pending is news on when and where drive-thru vaccinations will resume for 1a1 groups, funeral and mortuary workers, and the 75+ population.

Sweat said Shelby County’s COVID-19 numbers appear higher when compared to other counties because Shelby is more populous.

“When there are more people, there will be more cases,” Sweat said. “Shelby County is the most populous county in Tennessee.”

Sweat said health officials are aware that some residents may feel frustrated because the deployment of the vaccine is so slow. Officials said earlier in the week that the scarcity of vaccine was a “national supply chain” issue.

“It feels like it’s going so slow, too slowly,” Sweat said. “But actually, Tennessee is in the top three states for efficiency in administering vaccines. That means 47 other states are doing worse than we are.”

Sweat said local officials are hopeful that Friday they will hear from the Tennessee Department of Health about when more vaccines can be expected to arrive in Shelby County.

Randolph said he has directed a special team of personnel to concentrate on warehouses and other industrial workplaces. They continue to be hot spots for unchecked spread and a high number of new cases.

The weekly positivity rate is up to 14.3 percent. Health officials said 10 percent is the target for mitigating spread.

The number of available hospital beds continues to be a concern. Presently, 94 percent of acute care beds are in use, and 95 percent of ICU beds are filled.