Local health experts disagree with lifting many COVID-19 restrictions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While data show only about a third of people in Shelby County have been vaccinated, Gov. Bill Lee declared the health crisis is over.

He wanted the county to lift its mask mandate and other restrictions by the end of May. It’s something local health experts strongly disagreed with.

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“We have seen over the few weeks a slight increase in the number of cases in Shelby County. We know the variant is the dominant strain here in Shelby County, and it’s more transmissible,” said Dr. Nick Hysmith, medical director of infection prevention at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at UTHSC.

If the mask mandate is lifted, the county will be wandering into new territory. Health leaders don’t think people will continue masking if they have a choice. And what about large events?

“Once we reach herd immunity, we will be able to go back to some normal sense of concerts and outdoor events and that sort of thing,” said Hysmith.

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But will getting vaccinated now be enough down the road? Dr. Hysmith said he does not believe the COVID-19 vaccine shot will be needed annually like a flu shot.

“We do suspect there will be one or two shots we have to have down the road if variants pop up, or you need a booster,” he said.

Health leaders across Shelby County said vaccinations are the key to loosening the restrictions we’ve dealt with for more than a year. But they said it has proven to be an uphill battle.

“With the new variants that have been more aggressive, we see more 30 and 40-year-olds even in the ICU, and we have to focus on vaccinating those people,” said Baptist Hospital Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld

Health leaders also said COVID might be here for the long run, and it will be something we have to treat and get vaccinated against.