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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County issued a new mask mandate on Wednesday, requiring masks in all indoor public spaces.

“We must give our hospitals and residents a fighting chance,” Dr. Michelle Taylor, the new head of the Shelby County Health Department said on Wednesday.

There is a new sense of urgency with the new health directive as hospitals face staffing shortages amid rising patient counts.

This directive states, “All individuals aged 2 and over, regardless of their vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask as of Friday, August 20, at 7:00 a.m., while indoors in public settings.”

“I’ll start by saying the message I’m going to give today may not be what everyone wants to hear,” Dr. Taylor said as she started off her address to the city council on Wednesday.  

Taylor, as the new health director, delivered a frank and direct message to the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday. She warned about the state of local hospitals and the strain the current influx of COVID-19 patients puts on them.

Taylor says it is urgent that the new health directive go into effect because of the pressure on hospitals is intense. With wait times that are now off the charts, all local hospitals are experiencing delays.

Taylor elaborated, “The Shelby County Health Department has been informed that we will be receiving a signed letter from all of the directors of the emergency departments across the county saying they’re at a critical point and if we don’t do something we will see the possible collapse of our health system in Shelby County.”

Dr. Reginald Coopwood, the President, and CEO of Regional One Health is requesting a financial injection from the commission to hire more staff and provide for beds for patients.

“We would ask that would support this initiative to help stabilize the trauma system in this community,” Dr. Coopwood said.

Van Turner, a member of Shelby County Commissioner told us, “What we did today was appropriate 3.6 million dollars to allow more staff to accommodate 21 more beds to be reopened.”

Aside from needing financial support, the health department is also calling for the return of social distancing.

“The other thing I’m recommending to the commission today is we consider six-foot distancing in all our indoor establishments,” Dr. Taylor said, “and you need also consider that mass events that wouldn’t be six foot distanced could cause a continued increase in the infection rate.”

This new health directive aimed at keeping the Memphis healthcare system on life support as COVID cases continue to surge.

“Our infection rate is going up and if we had any other type of incident in Shelby county right now meaning a terrorist event, a bus crash, mass casualty event, our hospitals don’t have the resources to respond,” Taylor said.

Some Shelby County commissioners are questioning just how “effective” and “legal” local mask mandates can be given Governor Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt-out of mask mandates for their kids.