Health Department: Pandemic plateauing after holiday surge

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 12, 2021 6:21 PM CT | Published: January 12, 2021 12:54 PM CT

New federal guidance on not withholding the second dose of two-dose COVID-19 vaccine shots should improve the national chain supply issue leading to more vaccinations, according to Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department director.

“If everything is released early, there is an assumption that the supply chain is going to improve, and we’ll have opportunity for the second doses at a later point,” Haushalter said at a Tuesday press briefing.

Your coronavirus vaccine questions answered

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended Tuesday, Jan. 12 that states begin vaccinating those 65 and older or those under 65 with underlying health conditions.

Shelby County Health Department officials said they were awaiting more information from the Tennessee Department of Health but will adjust when the new guidance “is in writing.”

Federal government asking states to speed vaccine, not hold back 2nd dose

“We’re clearly keeping up with the federal guidance and then wait for that to trickle down to the state level,” Haushalter said. “We have to wait for that guidance to change in writing. However, the plan has always been once we got through those 75 and above — or most of the way through — to then start opening it up to other populations.” 

The changes at the federal level come as COVID-19 vaccine rollout has caused frustration nationally and locally. About 35% of the 25 million doses distributed have been administered nationwide, according to the CDC. Shelby County has vaccinated about 24,700 people, or about 2.6% of the population, according to the Health Department.

Shelby County is currently receiving 8,900 vaccine doses a week from the state, an allotment expected to continue for the rest of the month. Even with the updated federal guidance, there is no clarity on how much more vaccine the county will receive in February or in future months. At the current rate, it would take at least 18 months to vaccinate 70% of the population in Shelby County (an estimated 656,000 people) to achieve herd immunity.

The Health Department resumed vaccinations Tuesday at the Pipkin Building, although appointments are booked through the remainder of January. Haushalter said the goal locally remains for those vaccinated to receive a second dose on time.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination, while the Moderna vaccine requires a second shot about four weeks after the initial one. Shelby County is now administering both vaccines.

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If someone does not show up for their appointment, Haushalter said there are other groups and populations the Health Department can contact to fill those open slots. There is also work underway to develop an app that would text someone when a spot is available, she said.

Shelby County’s updated vaccination schedule

Shelby County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph warned that even when someone receives their first vaccine dose, they still need to adhere to the same safety measures regarding wearing a mask and socially distancing.

“Do not assume if you go get your vaccination one day, and the next day you can hang up your face covering, and you can no longer practice social distancing,” he said. “I don’t want you to have a false sense of security thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve been vaccinated now, so I’m ok.’”

Pandemic plateauing locally

While cases and hospitalizations remain higher than the benchmarks set by local health officials, the pandemic is plateauing following the Christmas and New Year’s surge, Haushalter said.

The seven-day case average is 641. While lower than previous averages of 700 or more, that’s still above the current target of 450 or fewer new cases a day. The reproductive rate also declined to 1.03 but remains above the target of 1. Active cases in Shelby County stand at 7,970, the highest reported to date.

Coronavirus hospitalizations are at 579 in Memphis-area hospitals as of 5 p.m. Monday, according to Tennessee’s Healthcare Resource Tracking System. That’s lower from the peak of 661 hospitalizations reported Wednesday.

“The decreasing number is probably an indication we are decreasing our number of cases slightly, which then impacts hospitalizations,” Haushalter said. “It’s a positive sign. It does reinforce that all the measures we’ve taken in Shelby County has reduced the impact of the holiday surge compared to some other communities.”


coronavirus vaccine Alisa Haushalter
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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