Reproduction rate at epidemic low; other stats encouraging

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 26, 2021 3:38 PM CT | Published: January 21, 2021 12:39 PM CT

Shelby County is enjoying in a COVID reprieve these days; the good news trending with case numbers, which have been steadily decreasing for more than a week.

On Thursday, Jan. 21, the county hit pandemic low, so far, with a 0.84 reproductive rate.

At this rate, each person is passing the virus on to less than one other person, which means for now, the virus is not growing in the county, even though 432 new cases were reported Thursday.

But with a mutation that is more contagious growing in places around the country, the good news is no panacea.

Coronavirus: Cases slowly falling, but 14 deaths added to total

Over the past seven days, the daily average of new cases is 429, an improvement, even since mid-January. 

A new site for initial vaccinations has been confirmed at Germantown Baptist Church, when those shots are ready to be administered next month. 

COVID-19 vaccination site planned for Germantown

By the weekend, it is reasonable to expect Tennessee will have more than 700,000 cases total. Right now, in Shelby County, 5,571 people have active cases of COVID-19 for a case rate of 44.1 per 100,000 people. 

The other good news – while African American and Hispanic people are still getting the disease in numbers higher than their percentage of population, even those numbers are coming down.

“Now, when we look at the distribution of cases across racial and ethnic subgroups, we see a pattern that is more similar to the distribution of our population,” David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department, said Thursday at the COVID joint task force briefing.

While the age range with the most cases is still 24-35, there are increases in case load among people ages 35-64, worrisome because at age 55, mortality rates pick up.

Since late 2020, the fatality rate in Shelby County has ticked slightly up from 1.4% to 1.5%.

Meanwhile, by Monday of this week, 14.7% of the people receiving their first vaccine were 75 and older.

But the Health Department continues to say that it cannot announce when it will begin administering second shots for some 9,500 people who need them, starting this weekend.

It has said for more than a week that it is negotiating the final details on the building contract. It said it would announce the location by Thursday, Jan. 21.

“If they get it done by the end of the day is a moot point,” said Michael Harris, a retiree. “I am really more concerned that they might have delayed finding a site for the second dose because they were working with Collierville and Germantown on a site. That would be really disappointing.

“The same old things for Memphis - make sure the wealthy suburbs are taken care of before the City of Memphis,” says Harris, who participated in the Johnson & Johnson clinical trial and now knows he received the vaccine and not the placebo.

“I don’t' need the second dose, but I have lot of friends and family that do.”

The new Health Directive No. 17, which goes into effect Saturday, is a reflection of the steadily improving numbers. Under it, no businesses are closed, including museums.

Health Directive No. 17 loosening restrictions issued

“We want to remind people that we saw that it was necessary to change the health directive in response to changes we are seeing in the data,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, health officer. “We are making progress. There is a downward trend in a lot of our metrics.”

“We have provided you with info you can take to not contact the virus that causes COVID-19,” Randolph said. “Every citizen should look. There are safety measures outlined that individuals should adhere to.”

Testing is still important, especially as labs are watching for possible emergence of the U.K. variant in Shelby County. Randolph says people should get tested if:

  • They have been around anyone who tested positive.
  • If they are under age 40 and have been around people who were not masking. 

People 65 and older should not go to places where people are not wearing masks.

Although President Joe Biden has said he plans to have 100 FEMA centers where vaccine will be given, there is no word yet on whether Memphis might be one or if Shelby County will get more vaccine under the new administration’s promise to step up vaccine allotments.

“Having the vaccine available is clearly a game-changing opportunity for all of America. The problem, of course, as you alluded to, is supply,” Sweat told a reporter in the Thursday briefing.

“And we need more doses to come into Shelby County. But at this point in time, we’ve had no specific instructions from the state or federal government about how the change of administration will impact the supply allocations for Shelby County.”

Sweat also said local health officials are working to overcome any “vaccine hesitancy” by reaching out to community leaders in churches and synagogues, health care facilities and other influence segments to get the word out.

Randolph, a minister himself, received the vaccine, saying Thursday, “I’m not going to ask you to do something I myself would not do.”

While early reports show white people are getting the vaccine in much higher numbers than people of color, Randolph said data does not prove any thing yet.

“In general, you would find in health care workers, African Americans and other people of color may not be well represented as employees, but we don’t have enough data yet,” he said. “There has been a lot of talk of reluctance in the African-American community to receive the vaccine. Personally, I think that may be a little exaggerated.”

What is needed, he said, is a message, delivered by an “appropriate messenger” that is truthful, clear and presented in a respectful way.

“Then, I think people will make the decision to receive the vaccine.”

Meaningful news delivered to you each week

Coverage of the key happenings in our city including city hall, education, and more.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions


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.


Reading comments and joining the conversation are some of the many benefits of subscribing. Join the conversation by clicking the View Comments button below. Not a subscriber? Click here. 

Our commenting policy can be viewed here

Meaningful news delivered to you each week

Coverage of the key happenings in our city including city hall, education, and more.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions