MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In the latest health directive issued Friday, the Shelby County Health Department said they will be making masks mandatory for everyone in the county while out in public.
Health department director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said more than 50% of the public has been wearing masks, but the messaging isn’t working, so they have to mandate facial coverings to curb COVID-19.
“We already have the ability to enforce within restaurants and other facilities that we inspect,” Haushalter said, “and then we also in writing the health directive have the ability to empower law enforcement to act on our behalf for enforcement.”
Masks were already mandatory in the city of Memphis after City Council approved an ordinance late last month.
In a news conference Haushalter said transmission in the Shelby County community is continuing to go up. Where they had been seeing 100 to 200 new cases a day, they’re now reporting upwards of 300.
On Friday, the county reported 11,044 cases, which is an increase of 442 cases within 24 hours. Approximately 194 people died from the virus, 7,125 are believed to have recovered from the virus and 3,725 are infected.
“I would say that things are worse,” said Dr. Manoj Jain. “We’re seeing more and greater number of cases. We can change this!”
With close to four times the number of daily cases coming in, and parts of the population seemingly unaware or unconcerned that COVID is just as bad as ever Mid-South officials are hoping that the county-wide mask mandate will turn heads, and force action.
“There’s been too much misinformation,” said Dr. Jeff Warren. “They say, it’s not about punishing offenders, but a value on mass safety. There’s a lot of information out there where somehow people think that wearing a mask doesn’t help. It does!”
In the past, the health department said they didn’t know if they could legally enforce masks, but now they’ve been given an “evolving” opinion that they can citing other cities who have done the same thing.
It’s unclear how they will enforce the new measure.
“At the current time we won’t have very specific enforcement measures in there but those can be added as we move forward,” said Haushalter. “We already have the ability to enforce within restaurants and other facilities that we inspect and then we also in writing the health directive have the ability to empower law enforcement to act on our behalf for enforcement.”
Health department officials also said Friday to be prepared for upcoming restrictions on bars and restaurants. They said they will address it at the beginning of next week.
The timing for expanding facial covering requirements is ironic, as residents across the country have been filing lawsuits against local governments, complaining their civil rights are being violated.
Mid-South medical experts aren’t concerned.
“This is about public health. This is about safety. It’s the right thing to do,” Jain said.
They say the timing for a mask mandate couldn’t have been better, considering the holiday weekend could be a pivotal point in the battle against the pandemic.
“How we handle this weekend will determine how many people we set out in body bags in three weeks,” Warren said.