Health officials hold final COVID-19 briefing for Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County health officials announced that the COVID-19 Task Force briefing held on March 10 would be the last.

Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor and Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said if cases were to go back up again, they could bring the briefings back.

It’s an example of how things have gotten better lately.

While questions remain about the virus, doctors know a lot more about how to keep it under control.

Two years have passed since the first reported cases of COVID-19 in the Mid-South.

It’s a day Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease expert who has been one of the faces of the COVID-19 fight in Shelby County, remembers well.

“When we had the first case in the Mid-South, I like to say she was afraid, and so was I, because we really only had supportive care,” he said.

A lot has changed since then, but perhaps some of the biggest developments besides the vaccine include the options now available to treat patients who contract the virus.

“First with the steroids for people who got the sickest in the hospital, and now even down to oral medications that can prevent 90 percent of the worst of these cases,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

Thursday, the Shelby County Health Department reported a weekly average of 54 cases a day.

It’s a much different number from just two months earlier.

On January 10, the omicron surge peaked at a seven-day average of more than 2,500 new cases a day.

But that does not mean we’re in the clear yet.

“If you take where we are this week, we’re still a month from last time from when we had even heard of omicron. So it’s not like we’re further along in this process than we were before,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

Dr. Threlkeld said the CDC would determine if and when we are in an endemic phase.

That means COVID-19 will still be with us, but cases will remain low, and at times we will see spikes just like the flu.

“We already have the tools with vaccination, testing, and treatments available to turn this into an influenza-like illness,” he said.

Dr. Threlkeld said there is still much left to learn.

He said studies are underway to understand long COVID better, and doctors are on the lookout for the next fast-spreading variant.