Health department official: ‘We must mask up so we can remain open’

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New health directive could be released anytime between Friday and early next week

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Health Department says a health directive will be coming as soon as next week.

During the Memphis/Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force meeting Thursday, Dr. Bruce Randolph with the health department painted a dire picture of where they county is when it comes to the pandemic, emphasizing that the community has reached the point where further action needs to be taken.

“We must act now,” he said. “If we wait too long then the numbers will be even worse and so the projections or trends indicate to us we have to do something.”

According to the latest data, Shelby County has reported 44,222 cases and 624 deaths since the pandemic began in March. On Thursday, 389 new cases were reported.

Approximately 387 COVID positive patients are being treated at local hospitals as of Thursday. Those patients, combined with acute care patients, means local hospitals are working at 91% utilization. The Intensive Care Units are working at 89%.

Of those patients who have died, 86% of them are between the ages of 55 and 85. Eighty-one percent had cardiac conditions; 46% had respiratory conditions; 21% were obese; and 45% had diabetes.

More than 60% of those who died are Black, Randolph said. Of those getting sick, 67% are between the ages of 18 to 54.

What this means, Randolph explained, is that the younger population is getting the disease but it’s the older people who are dying.

The seven day average of new cases is also up to 443 cases per day, which Randolph said is concerning considering in past health directives 450 cases is the criteria the health department established for “a set back” when it comes to fighting the virus.

Health officials are now watching the numbers closely to see what steps need to be taken. They are currently working on a new health directive which could be released anytime between Friday and early next week.

Randolph wouldn’t give any details on what could be included in the new health directive, but said they are working to find an in-between where the county can remain open as much as possible while still protecting all citizens.

That’s why he says it’s so important for everyone to mask up and follow the health directives so we can remain open and prevent more people from getting sick.

“It’s very important that each and everyone find it within ourselves to be responsible and to care for the least of these: our loved ones and those who are more vulnerable,” he said.

When asked about a vaccine, Randolph said they anticipate the arrival of the first vaccines sometime in December. The vaccines would go to the larger hospitals first who will make sure that those patients with underlying conditions and medical professionals on the front lines receive it first.

“Patients with some of these underlying conditions, over age 65 and health care workers at risk of exposure to COVID will be the first to receive the vaccine,” Randolph said.

The next phase would include other health care workers, teachers, day care workers and those in the vulnerable populations. The general population would receive it last.

The vaccine is a two-dose medication that requires at least 21 days between doses.

Tips for celebrating Thanksgiving

The Shelby County Health Department recommended forgoing the festivities this Thanksgiving as gatherings will help spread the virus, but for those who want to celebrate, they released some tips to keep in mind:

  • Limit contact with people outside your household
  • Wear a mask at all times around people who don’t live in your household
  • Limit close contact by maintaining six feet from people
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
  • Get tested before the gathering

“We would like for you to consider only spending this holiday with those in your immediate household and interacting with others via virtual or other means,” said Tiffany Collins with the joint task force.

The health department has opened several free testing sites. They recommend getting tested one to three days before gathering. You can click here for more information.

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