Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris on Friday signed an Executive Order that gives Shelby County employees paid time off to get vaccinated. “In alignment with the Biden administration, we’ve initiated a new push for all organizations to give employees time during the workday to go get the vax,” Harris said via a social media post.

Gone for a month, the televised briefings of the Memphis and Shelby County Joint COVID-19 Task Force are back, signaling a move in the wrong direction regarding the community’s fight against the coronavirus.

“We stopped these briefings about one month ago,” said City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowan. “And when we did, we said if things changed substantially, we’ll be back. So, we are back, which means things have changed substantially.”

At Thursday’s briefing, much of the focus was on the virus’ Delta variant, which is driving a surge of infections in Memphis/Shelby County and much of the nation.

The new daily case rate is four times what it was a month ago, the positivity rate has doubled and hospitals in Shelby County are again strained from the COVID-19 case load, according to McGowan.

“Last month, there were 50 hospitalizations, 13 in the ICU from COVID-19,” said McGowan. “Now, there are 162 hospitalizations, with 56 in the ICU. Many of them are on ventilators.

Testing for COVID-19 and getting vaccinated remain keys for keeping the virus in check. Everyone should “know your status,” McGowan said, given the “transmissibility” of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Public and private facilities, physicians and pharmacies still offer testing and vaccinations at no cost. McGowan urged everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, to get tested if they have not been tested in a while.

A total of 734,000 people have been vaccinated in Shelby County, with 407,000 getting at least one shot. That is 43 percent of Shelby County. The other 333,000 have been fully vaccinated.

McGowan attributed a slight uptick in vaccinations to the “Our Best Shot Door-to-Door Campaign. He said more than 13,000 doors have been knocked on, promoting vaxing in households. A new pilot is being launched, making the vaccination available on the spot as fence-sitters decide to take the shots.

Public vaxxing will continue through the fall, and the pop-up vaxing program will continue through August, McGowan said.

At Thursday’s briefing, Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph provided details on “breakthrough cases,” meaning instances of vaccinated individuals coming down with COVID-19, despite inoculation.

“We’ve had a total of 458 breakthrough cases, but that’s out of 400,000 who have been vaccinated,” Randolph said.

“Breakthrough cases are a concern because 30 of those were caused by the Delta variant, with two deaths as a result of the breakthrough cases. But what is a more important concern is that 88 percent … of those who are hospitalized, severely sick and in intensive care, are unvaccinated.”

From June 21-27, the seven-day rolling average was 22, said Randolph, noting that it had jumped to 174, a “600 percent” increase. The positivity rate a month ago was 2.7, compared to a most recent 11.1 percent.

Randolph pressed for those who have not been vaccinated to do so. Masking, social distancing and avoidance of crowds in poorly ventilated spaces are safety measures that should be resumed, even among the vaccinated.

“It’s wise to play it safe when you are around people and you don’t know their status,” said Randolph.

McGowan said local officials are awaiting CDC guidance in directing when children younger than 12 should get the vaccination.

Students return to school in August. A huge back-to-school event is planned for the Pipkin Building, McGowan said.

“There will be haircuts, back packs, lots of giveaways, school supplies, and of course, vaccinations.”