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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Mid-south doctors fear COVID-19 cases could spike as UTHSC says contagious variant is now in Shelby County

A sample was discovered at the lab Monday. Current vaccines are expected to protect against the variant, but health experts urge the public to stay vigilant.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — "From my perspective, it's 100% for sure," Dr. Scott Strome with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center said.

That's how confident those with the UT Health Science Center are that the highly contagious, UK COVID-19 variant strain is now in the Memphis area. Scientists discovered the sample Monday at UTHSC's regional biocontainment lab, one of a dozen of so in the country.

"If you detect by random chance, the likelihood is it's already out in our community," Dr. Strome said.

The Mid-South stakes could be high. 

British scientists recently found the UK variant between 30% and 70% more transmissible and up to 30% percent more deadly, compared to the original COVID-19 virus. 

"The problem is the more people who spread this variant, the more people come into contact and become infected and living in Shelby County - where we have people at risk and with co-morbidities - that will undoubtedly strain the hospital systems," Methodist Clinical Pharmacy Specialist Morgan Jones said.

There's good news however; protection against COVID-19 and the UK variant are already in the arms of those in Shelby County's high risk priority groups.

"The available vaccines right now appear to be very effective against that variant," Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Memorial Hospital said.

Then there's the bad news. Health experts said more than 600,000 thousand people in Shelby County still need to be vaccinated to reach the herd immunity goal.

"We need to vaccinate faster. And then the other thing is that we cannot forget the basics of social distancing, masks, and hand washing, because that's what is going to keep it at bay," Dr. Steve Threlkeld said. 

Early Treatment for COVID-19 An effective early treatment is available for persons who test positive and have the following risk factors: Anyone over age 12 with obesity, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or whose immunity is compromised by disease or prescription treatments.