COVID surge taxing contact tracing efforts of Health Dept.

Department still waiting on more vaccine

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 08, 2021 5:22 PM CT | Published: January 07, 2021 12:46 PM CT

The Shelby County Health Department is using teams of nurses to finish vaccinating in nursing homes and waiting for word from the state when more serum will arrive.

It also announced Thursday, Jan. 7, that contact tracing efforts have become strained due to the sheer number of COVID-19 infections and that it will focus on new workplace investigations where transmissions have occurred.

Shelby County out of coronavirus vaccine; 2.6% of residents got shots

The Health Department expects an update from the state Thursday or Friday, Jan. 8, on getting more vaccine, said David Sweat, deputy director of the Health Department.

Until then, Shelby.community includes a link to the state tool that helps people know what priority phase they are in. At the end of the questionnaire, people can sign up for emails and text alerts about when the vaccine will be available to them locally and how to register.

Shelby County’s updated vaccination schedule

The arrival of the vaccine kicked off an optimism that has subsided a little due to the scarcity of the serum and the daunting logistics of a national rollout.

“This vaccination campaign will be a year-long campaign. We are only at the beginning of it,” Sweat said.

The goal is to deliver two doses of vaccine to 656,600 people, 70% of the county’s population, which is the level experts say it will take to achieve herd immunity.

Your coronavirus vaccine questions answered

In the meantime, the state of Tennessee is trying to reallocate supplies of vaccine to high population centers as it and the world waits for more companies to have vaccine approved by the FDA.

Bill Christian, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Health, issued this statement Thursday on vaccines:

“Vaccine distribution is based on population. We are receiving weekly allocations of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. We are pleased with the overwhelming interest Tennesseans are showing in receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, and we’re providing them as quickly as possible as we receive additional shipments of vaccines.

“We have had a number of counties deplete their current supplies of vaccine, which is a good thing, as our goal is to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to as many Tennesseans as possible as quickly as possible.

“COVID-19 vaccine supplies remain limited at this time, and Tennessee like other states has experienced delays in receipt of vaccines from federal partners. Availability of vaccines varies by county, and counties may progress through COVID-19 vaccination phases at different times depending on supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and interest in receiving them,” Christian said.

“We look forward to accelerating through our priority phases to cover the maximum number of Tennesseans in the shortest time possible as vaccine supplies become increasingly available. The health department is planning additional vaccination opportunities and will share details about those as vaccine supplies become available,” he said.

When supply picks up, vaccine eventually will be available in drugstores and doctors’ offices.

Two weeks after Christmas, the county is in the throes of the surge. Health officials expect the 1,000th death will happen Thursday or Friday. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, 651 COVID patients were hospitalized, a record; the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system had one ICU bed left. 

“We are very much in the middle of the worst,” Sweat said.

At the current reproduction rate of 1.07, the county can expect nearly 15,000 new cases over 20 days and 22,272 cases in 30 days.

Against that backdrop, county health officials are looking at the safer at home order and Health Directive No. 16, both which expire Jan. 22, and anticipating the next moves. The Health Department has the option of extending the order. 

Strain on contacting cases

Given the surge of new cases, the Health Department now cannot reach the 70%-75% of positive COVID-19 cases that was the target as late as early December.

“At this point, I think it would be most accurate to say that we are interviewing samples of the cases,” Sweat said. “We do continue to try to interview as many people as we can during this phase because it teaches us things about what’s going on with transmission.”

In the last 30 days, Health Department has interviewed nearly 2,000 people who tested positive. From that, it gets data about how many continue to work when they are infectious, what industries are most affected and the age distribution of cases, among other data.

The Health Department is working with laboratories and IT providers to establish a network that would allow people to self report contact tracing information and receive isolation instructions by text.

It expects to double down on enforcement, targeting workplaces associated with spread, including warehouses and other industrial settings.

But the greatest impact now rests with people themselves, said Dr. Bruce Randolph, health officer for the Health Department.

“We’ve done most of what we can do until everyone gets vaccinated,” he said. “We as individual persons must adhere to the safety measures we have in place...”

For individuals, it means masking and distancing. For employers, it means stepped-up vigilance in finding ways for employees to work from home and keeping others from being at work when they are not feeling well.

“From local data, one of the major places people report when not feeling well is work,” Randolph said. “We have identified many cases associated with work and the workplace.”

Employers cannot have employees in the workplace if they are contacts of people who have tested positive.

“If you have been around someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19 – within six feet and of period of 15 minutes, you are a contact,” Randolph said.

Those people may be released from quarantine after 10 days if they no longer have symptoms and in seven days if they have no symptoms and test negative.

“You have to remain in quarantine for seven days before you are released,” Randolph said, noting that some employers think that a negative test is all it takes for an employee to be readmitted to work. “That isn’t how that works.”

The need to completely shut things down becomes less necessary, Randolph said, if people take personal responsibility to prevent transmission of the virus.

To that end, the Health Department closed the following businesses, effective Jan. 4: Stogies, 8556 Macon Cove Road; Vibe Lounge & Grill/Trep & Glow Point Night, 3141 New Horn Lake Road; One Block North, 645 Marble Ave.; Blow Hooka & Cigar Lounge, 815 Exocet Drive; Royal Hookah Lounge, 5798 Raleigh-LaGrange Road; Rumba Hooka No. 2, 3920 Park Ave.; Incredible Pizza, 1245 N. Germantown Parkway; and James Lounge, 3172 Summer Ave.

They may open after 14 days if their reopening plans are approved.

Local COVID deaths near 1,000, Shelby waiting on more vaccine doses

Directive 16 went into effect Dec. 26 and includes limiting restaurants to 25% dining capacity. It will take another two weeks to know how effective the restrictions have been.

The things Shelby Countians are doing are making a difference, Sweat said, noting the county’s relatively low case number per 100,000 residents.

According to CovidActNow, Shelby County has 80.7 new cases per 100,000 people. Davidson County’s is 96.4 and Fayette County is 99.7.

“If we didn’t have those measures in place, our rates would be sky high,” Sweat said.

Freelancer writer Ian Round contributed to this report.

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coronavirus Task force briefing David Sweat Dr. Bruce Randolph
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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