Health officials sounding alarm as Delta variant spreads across Mid-South

MEMPHIS, TENN. — Shelby County health officials are sounding the alarm as the delta variant spreads across the Mid-South.

The Shelby County Health Department held a news conference on Thursday to get the word out about the increase in numbers in Memphis and the county.

Shelby County reported 183 new Covid cases Thursday. While that’s lower than when the county was at its peak earlier this year, the trend line is again moving up.

County health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph estimates about 72 percent of active cases in Shelby County are delta variant cases.

The local percentage is much higher than the national average of delta variant cases, which sits at 58 percent.

Dr. Randolph said younger people are getting sick and ending up in the hospital with the more transmissible delta variant.

He said only about 35 percent of Shelby County’s population has been fully vaccinated, and that’s contributing to the rise in cases, especially among people 18 to 24 years old.

That’s why the health department is renewing efforts to get more vaccine shots into arms.

“It’s really boiling down to two choices: you either get vaccinated or you get Covid,” Randolph said.

Dr. Randolph said about 40 percent of the county’s population remains vulnerable to the virus.

That number includes unvaccinated adults and children too young to get the vaccine.

He said in just two weeks, the county’s positivity rate has tripled from 3 percent to 9 percent.

While some of that may be attributed to the fourth of July holiday, Randolph said the trend line is moving in the wrong direction.

He said so far, the county has logged 203 confirmed and probable cases of the delta variant.

Of those, 18 have been breakthrough cases, meaning people who were fully vaccinated who contracted the virus.

Even so, Randolph said evidence shows the vaccine is protective against the delta variant. He delivered a powerful message to adults in Shelby County who haven’t yet been vaccinated on Thursday.

“Are you going to wait until children are dying before you’re convinced this virus is real and that you need to get vaccinated? Even the state of Mississippi now is reporting they have several children in intensive care and two on ventilators,” he said. “Are we going to have to wait until that starts happening in Shelby County?”

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said there is no plan to backtrack on Covid restrictions or to reinstate a mask mandate.

He said volunteers are continuing to knock on doors in low uptake areas and visit local jails to get more information out about the vaccine.