Delta now accounts for 98% of skyrocketing COVID cases

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 06, 2021 11:32 AM CT | Published: August 05, 2021 1:15 PM CT
<strong>Volunteers plan their routes for a&nbsp; COVID-19 vaccine literature drop on Saturday, July 17, in Memphis.</strong> (Lucy Garrett/Special to the Daily Memphian)

Volunteers plan their routes for a COVID-19 vaccine literature drop on Saturday, July 17, in Memphis. (Lucy Garrett/Special to the Daily Memphian)

The seven-day average for new COVID cases is now 478, up from 294 a week ago, as Delta rips through the community.

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Health officials sounded a persistent, sustained alarm Thursday, Aug. 5, that those who are eligible for vaccination need to do their part to blunt the rise, happening now as schools are preparing to open and tens of thousands of children are not vaccinated.

Of the 4,383 active cases in Shelby County, for the first time more than a quarter of them are pediatric cases.

Severe pediatric COVID cases on the rise

“We are working with all of the school districts, all of the school boards, all of the superintendents to ensure that our students have a safe return to class,” said Dr. Michelle Taylor, the new director of the Shelby County Health Department and a pediatrician.

Because school starts earlier here than many parts of the country, hospitals in the region are seeing some of the earliest spikes in pediatric cases, said Dr. Nick Hysmith, medical director of infection prevention at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“Right now, we are seeing it first in the Mid-South, and I just want to make sure everyone is aware.”

The state Department of Health Thursday said all children’s hospitals in the state could be full by the end of next week due to COVID and a rash of respiratory viruses, particularly RSV or respiratory syncytial virus, which can be serious for infants and older adults.

Thursday afternoon, 23 children were hospitalized across the state with COVID, according to the state Department of Health.

The rise in serious pediatric cases is a sign both of Delta’s contagion and that it may be a more virulent strain. Many physicians believe it is.

Four patients who tested positive at Le Bonheur have died since the pandemic began. The only one attributed to COVID happened last weekend.

A fifth also died last weekend of COVID before it was possible to get the child to Le Bonheur from an outlying hospital.

For 10 days, Le Bonheur has seen steady rises both in the number of children with COVID symptoms and those who are seriously ill. 

“We’ve seen the positive rates increase to almost 13%,” Hysmith said.

“We are seeing sick kids. We are seeing them come to our emergency department, and we are seeing them admitted to our respiratory floors and also to our critical care units.”

The reasons, he said, are threefold: low vaccination rates, the powerful Delta variant and the fact that some schools are now in session.

Until now, children were admitted to Le Bonheur for other conditions and then found to be positive.

“Suddenly, we are seeing kids with respiratory symptoms of shortness of breath, requiring supplemental oxygen as well as some kids who have required intubation and management in our intensive care areas,” Hysmith said.

“This has been sustained over the last week and a half. And unfortunately, I do not see that this will decrease over the next several weeks.”

Of children ages 12-17, 17.4% in Shelby County have been fully vaccinated.

Memphis-area private schools grapple with reopening amid COVID-19 surge

“Please, please, please discuss this with your child’s pediatrician, with your child’s family physician, with trusted agents in the community who can give you the facts about this vaccine and how important it is for your children as they prepare to return to school,” Taylor said.

Nearly 40% of Shelby County residents — 362,430 people — are still vulnerable to COVID-19, either because they have not been vaccinated or do not have natural antibodies to the disease.

One of the groups with the lowest vaccination levels is people ages 18-34.

“Remember, that most of the folks in that group are the people who are the parents of the children that are about to return to school,” she said.

The reproductive rate is 1.47, a pandemic high. Delta now accounts for 98% of cases, also a pandemic high.

Anything over 1 means the virus is expanding. For testing and vaccination sites, please go here.

The Health Department issued its latest health directive Tuesday, Aug. 3, which recommends masking for everyone in public, indoor spaces and in crowded outdoor venues.

In addition, officials are now encouraging all organizations, including workplaces, to either make regular testing mandatory for unvaccinated members or require vaccination.

Dru’s Bar, a gay bar in Midtown, announced it will require vaccinations.

Shelby County government, which currently does not have a legal path to require its employees be vaccinated, announced this week it will begin requiring routine, regular testing for unvaccinated workers.

Harris considering weekly COVID testing for some county employees

The hope is unvaccinated staff will decide vaccination is easier than frequent testing, Mayor Lee Harris said. 

If not, regular testing will identify cases and get employees in isolation before they can transmit the virus at work and across the community.

The pace of infection is reflected in hospitalizations. As of midday Thursday, 423 COVID patients were in metro-area hospitals, including 118 in ICU and 78 on ventilators.

At the end of June, 50 patients were in the hospital, 30 in ICU and six on ventilators.

“That’s eight times more people that we had just at the end of June, 10 times more people on ventilators than we had then,” said Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the City of Memphis.

“This is a very rapid rise.”

Last week, modeling showed the 3,131 active cases were expected to produce 14,423 new cases by Aug. 20. 

By Thursday, Aug. 5, the number of active cases was up 39%.

Experts cannot predict when the surge will subside or the level of damage it will do.

“If we don’t start to use a multi-layer approach to combat this thing, which means everybody who’s eligible for vaccination gets a vaccination, and everybody is wearing their mask, particularly indoors or in crowded settings, we’re going to see that rate continue to rise,” Taylor said.


Delta Dr. Michelle Taylor Dr. Nick Hysmith Doug McGowen
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 business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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