Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to some of the common questions we all have while we continue the course to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Shelby County Health Department is committed to providing our community with the most accurate information about COVID-19. 

For answers to specific questions, call the Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 Call Center at 901-222-MASK (6275). 

The COVID-19 Vaccine

Is the Shelby County Health Department administering the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Shelby County Health Department has conferred with the state and at no time have they requested that Shelby County Health Department employees cease administering vaccines. SCHD’s nurses and other personnel are permitted to continue their important work and public service in administering vaccines, notwithstanding corrective actions with respect to vaccine management and related functions.

What kind of vaccine is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Two of the COVID-19 vaccines—Pfizer and Moderna—are a new type of vaccine, called mRNA vaccines. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. More about mRNA vaccines here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html.

The Johnson & Janssen vaccine is a different kind of vaccine, called a viral vector vaccine. Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver important instructions to our cells. The benefit of viral vector vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19. More about viral vector vaccines here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/viralvector.html

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. No serious side effects have been observed. Some people who have received the vaccine experienced headache, tiredness, or had some redness and soreness where they received the vaccine. These are not unusual signs and symptoms for any vaccine and usually go away within a couple of days. There are several systems in place to make sure any side effects from the vaccine are reported and documented. The COVID-19 vaccines will be monitored to ensure their safety.

The CDC has set up a smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Through v-safe, you can quickly tell CDC if you have any side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Learn more and register here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe.html.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. It is not possible to get the virus from the vaccine.

Why are two vaccinations necessary?

While one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine appears to offer protection against the virus, it takes two doses of the vaccine for the body to develop optimal immunity to the virus. For the Pfizer vaccine, the second dose is required within 21 days of the first dose. For the Moderna vaccine, the second dose is required within 28 days. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, only one dose is required.

Does the first dose of the vaccine provide any protection against the virus?

A new CDC study reported that a single dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s COVID vaccine was 80% effective in preventing infections. The effectiveness increased to 90% two weeks after the second dose.

How will I know when to get the second dose?

When you get your first dose, you will receive a card with the date of your first dose, the product name/manufacturer of the vaccine you just received, and the date on which you should receive your second dose. Note that your second dose of COVID-19 vaccine must be from the same product name/manufacturer as your first dose. We recommend when you receive your card, take a picture as a back-up, and add the date to your calendar. Some providers may send reminders via text or email.

What happens if a person is late in getting their second dose of vaccine?

There is not much known yet about the impact of a late second dose on immunity, but people should receive the second dose, even if it is late.

If I get COVID-19 after taking the first dose of vaccine, but before taking the second dose, do I wait to receive the second dose?

Get the second dose after you recover from the illness and you have completed your period of isolation.

How can I protect myself against COVID-19 until I can get the vaccine?

If you have not yet been vaccinated, continue the preventive steps that are proven to reduce transmission of the virus:

  1. Keep at least 6 feet of separation between yourself and others from outside of your household
  2. Wear a mask or facial covering whenever you are in public or with people from outside your household
  3. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and use hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available
  4. Stay home from work, school, shopping or social activities if you are sick
  5. Get tested. COVID-19 testing is free and available to anyone with or without symptoms at convenient community testing sites around Shelby County. Click here for the list of community testing sites.

General Information

Can I get a COVID-19 test in Shelby County?

Yes. If you feel you need to be tested, appointments are available across Shelby County for free COVID-19 testing. If you suspect that you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, please call your healthcare provider, the Shelby County COVID-19 hotline: 833-943-1658, or contact one of the available testing sites to make an appointment.

Do call a doctor’s office or healthcare center for COVID-19 testing prior to arriving to confirm whether you need an appointment. If you intend to visit an emergency department for testing or treatment do call ahead to notify them first.

Can you have Coronavirus if you don't feel sick?

Yes. COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people — those who do not have symptoms and may not even know that they are infected. That’s why it’s important for everyone to wear masks in public settings and practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from other people).

Why is it important to social-distance from others?

Coronavirus is spread mainly from person to person, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). By maintaining at least 6-feet away from others, you reduce your risk of contracting Coronavirus, or spreading it to others if you have been infected.

What does "comorbidities" mean?

People with certain medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. When an individual with any of these underlying conditions contracts COVID-19, their preexisting condition, or “comorbidity,” increases the chances of severe symptoms and even death.

In Shelby County, 94% of deaths related to COVID-19 have had a preexisting condition — or comorbidity. People of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

Learn more at cdc.gov

What COVID-19 treatment is available for people with risk factors?

An effective early treatment is now 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.
  • Anyone age 12-17 with sickle cell disease; neuromuscular disorder; dependence on medical intervention, such as a breathing or feeding tube; or a lung disorder such as asthma that requires daily medication.
  • Anyone over age 55 with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, COPD or other chronic respiratory disease.
  • Anyone over age 65.

If you test positive, and have any of these risk factors, ask your health care provider about early COVID-19 treatments.

Health Directive Requirements

Face Masks

Is there any evidence that wearing a mask prevents the spread of COVID-19?

Yes. Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control. This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. Masks are recommended for people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, especially in crowded and poorly ventilated indoor locations. The CDC now says people who are fully vaccinated need not wear masks when around other people either indoors or outdoors, because their risk of spreading COVID-19 virus to others is very low.

Who should not wear a mask?

A face covering is not required in the following settings and circumstances:

(a) Within one’s own residence;

(b) By any child age two years or less (“age two years” means any child who has not reached their third birthday);

[Note: Any child age two years or less shall not wear a cloth face covering because of the risk of suffocation. Parents and caregivers must supervise use of face coverings by children to avoid misuse. Children can and do transmit COVID-19 in the same way that adults can. This guidance is consistent with CDC recommendations.]

(c) By persons who cannot medically tolerate wearing a face covering. No person, declining to wear a face covering because of a medical condition shall be required to produce verifying medical documentation;

(d) Within one’s own motor vehicle, provided the vehicle is not being used for public transportation or a vehicle for hire;

(e) By persons working alone in separate office spaces and while alone at their desk or workstation so long as the workstation is not shared with any other employee.

(f) When wearing a face covering poses a safety risk or security risk to a worker or an employee;

(g) If an establishment is open for business under the current Health Directive, when a customer is seated and actively dining (eating/drinking) at a restaurant, bar, or other establishment that is properly permitted to serve food or beverages. However, patrons must wear face coverings when they are seated but not eating or drinking, or moving about the establishment (e.g., to go to their table, to go to the restroom, or to leave the establishment);

(h) While outdoors in public spaces unless maintaining a physical distance of six feet or more from persons who are not members of the same household or residence is not feasible;

(i) While engaged in outdoor work or recreation, such as swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, unless maintaining a physical distance of six feet or more from persons who are not members of the same household or residence is not feasible;

(j) While in a place of worship. Places of worship are strongly encouraged to follow the Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship issued by the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative, the health guidelines in paragraph 3 of Governor Lee’s Executive Order No. 38, issued on May 22, 2020 and as extended or further addressed by subsequent executive orders; and

(j) While in a building or indoor space owned, managed, or leased by the State of Tennessee or federal government.

Mask Usage and Polling Places

Are face covering required while inside any voting location?

Face coverings are strongly encouraged (and will be provided) at all voting locations for anyone voting or administering an election.

Property Owners

When should landlords and property owners provide the notices to tenants about “Emergency Utility, Rental/Mortgage, Medical/Prescriptions, and Family Support Assistance?”

The notice should be provided to tenant(s) along with the service of process of the eviction notice or at least two weeks before execution of a writ of possession, whichever is shorter.  An example of proof of notice that can be used: Notice of Emergency Assistance.

 

What reopening or event plans should be submitted through the Shelby County Health Department’s plan portal for approval?

Event Planners for Large-scale festivals, fairs, parades, sporting events, and community events may, but are not required to, seek the Department’s seek the Department’s feedback for their event plan(s) if such technical assistance is desirable.

Contact Tracing

What is “contact tracing?”

Case investigation is the identification and investigation of patients with confirmed and probable diagnoses of COVID-19, and contact tracing is the subsequent identification, monitoring, and support of their contacts who have been exposed to, and possibly infected with, the virus.

Case investigation and contact tracing are well-honed skills that adapt easily to new public health demands and are effective tools to slow the spread of COVID-19 in a community.

Why is “contact tracing” critical to fighting the COVID-19 virus?

Case investigation and contact tracing are fundamental activities that involve working with a patient who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 (case) to identify people who may have been exposed to the patient (contacts).

This process prevents further transmission of disease by separating people who have (or may have) an infectious disease from people who do not.

It is a core disease control measure that has been employed by public health agency personnel for decades.

Is contact tracing or case investigation different from screenings of employees or visitors at certain locations?

Yes. Employers and businesses may require employees or visitors to report any positive COVID-19 test result and/or submit to screening as part of maintaining a safe workplace or establishment.

Please review the most current version of the health directive for further information on this: www.shelbytnhealth.com/healthdirectives.

Is the Health Department required by law to conduct contact tracing/case investigations?

Yes. Pursuant to state law, the Department shall receive reports of suspected cases of COVID-19 and must:

  1. Confer with the entity or person making the report;
  2. Collect any specimens for laboratory examinations to confirm the report and/or to find the source of the infection;
  3. Obtain all names and information necessary to identify and contact all persons potentially exposed to the source of the disease outbreak as needed to protect public health;
  4. Make a complete epidemiological investigation, including review of appropriate medical and laboratory records of affected persons and controls, interviews of affected persons and controls, and a recording of findings; and
  5. Establish appropriate control measures including examination, treatment, isolation, quarantine, exclusion, disinfection, surveillance, closure of an establishment, education, and other measures considered appropriate for the protection of public health.

Do health departments have exclusive authority to conduct contact tracing/case investigation work?

Yes. Governor Lee’s Executive Orders dictate a statewide approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, but certain counties with locally run health departments, including the Shelby County Health Department, have been delegated authority to issue local orders or measures related to the containment or management of the spread of COVID-19, which includes contact tracing and case investigations. These measures are further defined and explained in state law.

Does an individual or employer have an obligation to engage in contact tracing or case investigation with anyone besides the Shelby County Health Department or State of Tennessee Department of Health?

No. Please note that employers may request screening information from employees and visitors to ensure workplace safety and for purposes of complying with health directive and state/federal law.

Employers may be required to maintain and release records of confirmed cases that are workplace safety-related pursuant to OSHA/TOSHA record-keeping requirements as set forth in federal regulations.

When an individual tests positive, must the individual cooperate with the Department for purposes of contact tracing?

Yes. Pursuant to state law, corresponding regulations, and directives, individuals must cooperate with the Department by providing records or other information necessary to carry out the purposes listed above for contact tracing.

When an employee tests positive, must the employer report the positive case to the Department for purposes of contact tracing?

Yes. Pursuant to state law, corresponding regulations, and directives, individuals must cooperate with the Department by providing records or other information necessary to carry out the purposes listed above for contact tracing.

Are professionals who practice the “healing arts” (as defined by state law), such as nurses or doctors required to report positive test results to the Health Department?

Yes. All healthcare providers and other persons knowing of or suspecting a case of a reportable disease or event shall report that occurrence to the Department of Health.

Any person licensed by the State of Tennessee to practice a healing art who has reasonable cause to believe that a person is or may be a health threat to others because the person is unable, is unwilling, or is failing to act in such a manner as to not place others at significant risk of exposure to infection that causes serious illness, disability, or death shall report that information to the Commissioner or a health officer.

The profession or the entity for whom the professional works may assume the obligation to report on behalf of the professional.

Does confidential health information related to contact tracing that is provided to the Health Department remain confidential?

Yes. Pursuant to state and federal law and regulation, whenever any individual, employer, or entity provides medical information and relevant non-medical records to a duly authorized representative of the Department for purposes of contact tracing, such information shall be treated as confidential and sensitive and shall not be disclosed in any manner that would violate state and federal law.

If someone provides their confidential health information to a governmental entity, health care agency, or employer (other than the Department) for the purpose of contact tracing, does that information remain confidential under state and/or federal law?

The Department cannot ensure the confidentiality of health information that is provided to employers and/or third parties, though such parties may have separate confidentiality obligations.

COVID-19 Case Classification

Who counts as a COVID-19 case?

The Shelby County Health Department uses standard criteria to define a case, which was developed from national guidance put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only individuals who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, or who meet specific symptom and exposure criteria are considered COVID-19 cases.

Who counts as a confirmed case?

Anyone who has a positive confirmatory test result for the virus that causes COVID-19. The only confirmatory test for SARS-CoV-2 is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which detects the genetic material of the virus. Individuals must have a positive PCR test to be counted as a confirmed case.

The vast majority of all COVID-19 cases in Tennessee were classified as confirmed cases, meaning they had a positive PCR test.

Who counts as a probable case?

Anyone who has not had a positive confirmatory test, but 1) has a positive antigen test or 2) meets the clinical criteria of COVID-19 infection and is at high risk for having been infected with COVID-19 by another person, such as being a close contact.

The majority of probable cases have a positive antigen test. As antigen tests become more widely available, there will be an increase in probable cases in Tennessee and nationwide.

Why do we count probable cases?

Including probable cases in case counts provides a better understanding of COVID-19 illness in the community. Not every person who has COVID-19 will get tested with a confirmatory test, so including those who are tested with an antigen test or who have COVID-19 symptoms after exposure to the virus helps the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) better understand how many people in Tennessee have COVID-19. SCHD reports probable cases as recommended and follows national criteria to ensure the infection is reported uniformly across the country.

How does public health respond to cases?

Shelby County Health Department investigates confirmed and probable cases in the same way, by interviewing the case and identifying contacts.

Isolation:

A person who tests positive for COVID-19 is placed in isolation for at least 10 days. That means you must stay at home without any visitors and avoid other household members as much as possible. After 10 days, if you have not experienced symptoms or fever for at least 24 hours, you are considered recovered and can be released to resume daily activities, including work. A negative test result is not required to return to work, once the isolation period is completed. However, if you are experiencing symptoms, the period of isolation may be extended to up to 21 days, or until you have been without symptoms for at least 24 hours. Recovered persons do not need to be retested if they are re-exposed within 90 days nor are placed in quarantine again within 90 days.

Contact Tracing:

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 must notify those who are known to have been in contact with them and also comply with the Health Department on case investigations.  If you test positive, you will be asked to list everyone you have been in close contact with for 2 days before you developed symptoms or 2 days before you were tested, if you have no symptoms. Anyone who has been within 6 feet of you for 15 minutes or longer during that time period will be placed into quarantine.

Quarantine:

Quarantine is a public health strategy used to separate someone who may have been exposed to an illness and who is still in a period of time when they can develop illness. Quarantine is used to prevent transmission in the event the exposed person develops the illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) originally set a 14-day quarantine period for COVID-19 based on estimates of the upper bounds of the virus’ incubation period. Since that time, research indicates that more than 90% of exposed persons who go on to develop COVID-19 illness develop symptoms within 10 days of exposure. For that reason the CDC has revised its guidance to allow for a shorter quarantine period under the following conditions:

  • Quarantine can end after Day 10 of of exposure without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  • In some cases, quarantine can end after Day 7 of exposure, if a diagnostic specimen tests negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring, but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7.

In both cases, the quarantined person must continue to 1. Monitor for signs and symptoms of illness, 2. Wear a mask when around others, and 3. Observe social distancing through Day 14 of exposure.

COVID-19 vs Allergies

Spring pollen is in the air, and it seems everyone is experiencing some allergy symptoms like sneezing, sniffling, watery eyes, etc. How common are pollen allergies?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 million Americans suffer from some kind of allergy. Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

Are some allergy symptoms the same as COVID-19 symptoms?

There is some overlap in the symptoms, particularly, cough, congestion, sore throat, headache, and loss of taste or smell. Mild COVID-19 symptoms could be mistaken for allergy symptoms.

Persons with COVID-19 are more likely to have fever or chills, uncommon with allergies. They are also more likely to suffer gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, not usually associated with allergies.

COVID-19 most common symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Allergic rhinitis most common symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Itching (mostly eyes, nose, mouth, throat and skin)
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Pressure in the nose and cheeks
  • Ear fullness and popping
  • Sore throat
  • Watery, red, or swollen eyes
  • Dark circles under your eyes
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Hives

If the symptoms are so similar, how could someone tell the difference? How do you know when you can take an over-the-counter allergy treatment and when you should be tested for COVID?

The best way to know is to get tested for COVID-19. Testing is free and widely available. We recommend anyone who develops new symptoms should be tested. The symptoms of COVID-19 may be mild or vague. If you feel ill or think you may have been exposed, you owe it to yourself and the people around you to get tested.

Are people who suffer from allergies at greater risk of developing COVID-19?

They are not at higher risk; however, if they also suffer from asthma, common among people with respiratory allergies, they are at greater risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19.

Is it possible to have allergies and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, and that is another good reason to be tested for COVID-19.