SCHD Health Officer discusses COVID-19 vaccines, testing and safety during live community chat

By Daphne J. Thomas
December 23, 2020

Shelby County Health Department Health Officer Bruce Randolph, M.D., shared the latest pandemic data, news and safety recommendations with about 80 Southwest Tennessee Community College students, faculty and staff Tuesday, Dec. 22 during a live, virtual community chat.

Randolph provided details of SCHD’s Health Directive No. 16, the latest “safer at home” order that restricts public indoor gatherings to 10 persons or less, closes certain businesses to the public and limits operations of others, among other safety initiatives.  He also shared pandemic data that indicate health disparities between African Americans and Whites as they relate to Covid-19 infection occurrence and disease progression, even death.

“By race, we find that 57 percent of COVID-19 cases in Shelby County are among African Americans versus 27 percent for White residents,” Randolph said. “Of the 821 deaths, 457 of those who have died are Black,” he said. The numbers translate to a 60 percent death rate among African Americans who contract the virus, versus 32 percent of Whites. “When we look at the death rate and some of the underlying problems that contribute to higher rates of death, things that put you at a greater risk of dying include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and obesity.”

Randolph also urged younger residents to take the virus seriously and to follow safety protocols, that it could be the difference between life and death. “You may have a grandmother with hypertension and diabetes and she’s 75—she’s at great risk. You have granddad who just got over prostate cancer and he is 80, he is at great risk.”  He also stressed that younger persons are more likely to be asymptomatic and therefore should be especially mindful to wear a face covering and practice social distancing. “It’s really up to you young people. Right now we see that 90 percent of the deaths occur among people who are 55 (years old) or older. Only 4 percent of deaths occur among young people,” Randolph said. “Look at the demographics of this virus: (persons) 18-34 account for about 33 percent of cases, which means that younger people are getting infected; but when we look at the deaths, we find that it’s the older people who are dying.”

As the county navigates a surge in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday, Randolph strongly advised everyone to curtail or eliminate holiday gatherings by only celebrating with household members and continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing. “Look at your family. You can tell them ‘I love you, but I don’t want to expose you to the virus,’” he said. “You want to protect them so that you can celebrate with them next year, rather than attend a funeral.”

To view the community chat with Dr. Randolph, visit this link:

Vaccinations in Shelby County

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have arrived in Shelby County and Randolph says frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and patients and employees working in nursing homes are among the first who will be vaccinated.  As the vaccination program progresses over the next several months, he says essential workers and persons in “congregant settings” like prisons and other institutions are to be vaccinated next.  Teachers and others who work in schools and colleges and similar congregant settings will be vaccinated in phases three and four.  He also reported that both vaccines have similar efficacy rates, but that the Moderna vaccine will likely be easier and more cost effective to disseminate.  “The Pfizer vaccine must be kept extremely cold and can only be used for five days once it is thawed. The Moderna vaccine is good for 30 days in the refrigerator.”

The general public will likely be vaccinated beginning in late April or early May, Randolph said. In the meantime, masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing must be practiced over the next several months as the vaccination program rolls out and the rate of infection slows. “We need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the population in Shelby County to achieve herd immunity,” Randolph said.

Randolph also stressed the importance of testing, saying that of the three types of tests, the PCR test is the most accurate in diagnosing a COVID-19 infection and that testing causes less discomfort now that samples can be harvested lower in the nose. “When in doubt, get a test,” he said.

Randolph strongly suggested that residents read the safer at home order and other directives to stay abreast of pandemic developments. He has provided Southwest with several information resources below that include the order. For more information about the Shelby County Health Department’s pandemic initiatives and safety measures, visit the coronavirus section of their website at



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