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Taking stock of where we are now and what’s next

Despite the plummeting number of new daily cases of COVID-19 and the lifting of a mask mandate in Shelby County, Mayor Jim Strickland is not ready to give a complete “all-clear” to the city of Memphis.

Strickland on Tuesday (May 25) released an executive order – effective that day –extending a “limited state of emergency.” He acknowledged that the state of emergency is only enforced for a seven-day period and will be renewed as he deems necessary.

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Health Department continues to report noticeably low numbers of new cases of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, there were 70 cases reported and zero deaths. 

The health department is reporting more days with less than 100 new daily cases. As of Friday, there are currently 980 active cases in the county. Shelby County has reported a total of 98,542 cases and 1,671 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

“The fact that our numbers continue to be so encouraging speaks to the level of personal responsibility individuals are taking in safeguarding their own health,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, medical officer of Shelby County Health Department. 

“Although the county mandate has been lifted, you will still see many people wearing their masks in public places. This effort to remain safe is reflected in the low, daily number of new cases.”

Over the past month, the health department reports a drop in COVID-19 positivity rate in testing. The most recent data, ending the week of May 17, showed a six percent positivity rate. That is down from seven percent a month earlier.

The positivity rate peaked at 17.9 percent in the first few days of 2021.

As of Wednesday, the health department reported that 353,450 people had received vaccines, with 269,259 being fully vaccinated, that is, having received their second shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Although the county’s goal is to vaccinate at least 700,000, herd immunity is believed to already exist in highly vaccinated populations, such as seniors 60 and older.

(Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that can occur when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to a particular infection, through either vaccination or having survived previous infection.)

According to a statement released by Strickland, city government will continue to follow CDC guidelines, which currently recommends that people indoors wear a mask, unless they are in their own homes around family who have been vaccinated.

People entering City of Memphis facilities, with the exception of parks and other outdoor spaces, will still be required to wear a mask. 

Private businesses and churches may continue to require their patrons and employees to wear masks, if that is their preference.  

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