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Health scenario’s moving parts test public, private resolve

Mask-wearing members of a marching band, an honorary street-sign unveiling and a COVID-19 milestone for infections in Tennessee are part of the mix that reflects public and private resolve to get through the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.

The Tennessee Department of Health has now recorded 1,002,632 infections since March 2020, and the state is currently reporting nearly 6,400 new infections per day.

Sobering as those statistics are, Tennesseans in Greater Memphis are pushing forward, with those acutely attuned to the risks making needed adjustments to safety protocols. Such was the case over the weekend during a South Memphis parade held in conjunction with a street-unveiling salute to the legendary singing group The Temprees.

“We can’t shut everything down like we did the first time around,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, the Shelby County Health Department’s medical officer.

“We have information we didn’t have before. We have vaccines. We know that the safety protocols of masking, social distancing, avoiding poorly ventilated places where crowds have gathered, and washing thoroughly and often (work). 

“We will remain open. Shelby Countians must take charge of managing their own health.”

Efforts to mitigate the number of new daily cases are ongoing.

“The thing is getting through this,” said Randolph. “This strain of COVID-19 is different from the first one. Two things are happening: The virus is more contagious, and it is more transmissible from one person to another. Masking will keep everyone safe.”

This past week, Shelby County has averaged 798 new cases per day. On Wednesday (August 25), the Health Department reported 522 new cases and three COVID-19-related deaths.

Hospital bed availability remained at a breaking point, with 96 percent of ICU beds filled, and COVID-positive patients taking up the same percentage of regular beds.

Shelby County was averaging 1,984 new COVID-19 vaccinations per day on Wednesday. A total of 455,062 people in Shelby County have been vaccinated, about 65 percent of the goal of vaccinating 700,000 people.

With the news last week that U.S. health officials plan to give COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant of the coronavirus, Randolph said those who were vaccinated during the first quarter of the year should take the booster shot as soon as it becomes available.

According to Randolph, statistics show that in Shelby County 37 percent of African Americans, or 163,274, have been vaccinated, as compared to 34 percent, or 152,961, among Whites. 

Higher numbers of African Americans taking the vaccine follows a national trend. African Americans have surpassed White Americans across the nation in rates of vaccination by double digits, according to an NBC News poll released this week.

African Americans and Latino Americans lagged behind for months as polls showed hesitancy among various communities. Vaccination rates among African Americans have dramatically increased during the Delta surge.

That increase is reflected in the NBC News/Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies poll released Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest public school district, has recorded 547 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the school year, according to a dashboard set up to monitor cases within the system’s schools. 

Some 449 cases have been reported among students, and 98 cases among school staff. The district plans to update the numbers on the dashboard weekly.

Children now make up 36 percent of Tennessee’s reported COVID-19 cases, marking yet another sobering milestone in the state’s battle against the highly contagious delta variant, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Wednesday.

“We had 14,000 pediatric cases in the last seven days, which is a 57 percent increase over the week prior,” Piercey told reporters. “Right now, 36 percent of all of our cases in the state are among children when it’s historically been in the 10 to 15 percent range.”

According to researchers from Johns Hopkins, Tennessee ranks sixth in the country for new cases per capita. The rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by about 2,200, an increase of 75 percent, over the past two weeks.

Piercey said the biggest increase has been among school-age children just as many are kicking off the new school year.

The spike has raised calls from some health officials for the state to take more forceful protective measures to prevent the spread of the virus among young children, teachers and other staffers.

However, Lee has thus far resisted such suggestions. Instead, he recently signed the executive order letting parents opt their children out of coronavirus-related mask mandates in K-12 schools just as a few school districts issued mask requirements for students and others.

When pressed Wednesday if the Republican was considering giving schools more flexibility to hold virtual learning, Lee said no.

(This story reflects a report by the Associated Press.)


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