Health officials urge people to still wear masks, get kids over 12 vaccinated

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Health officials said they have now begun vaccinating people as young as 12 years old in Shelby County.

In an update Thursday, officials said the first pre-teen was vaccinated early Thursday morning, just hours after the state of Tennessee gave the go-ahead. The move allows 50,000 additional people in Shelby County the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Read more: Tennessee to administer vaccine to young teens

Health officials said 47% of their target goal of the population in the county has been vaccinated.

“It’s really about the fact that 35% of people have received a vaccine and an equal number have some level of immunity through disease, so we’re really at the point where we only have about 30% of the community is very susceptible to the disease,” said Doug McGowen, COO of the City of Memphis.

Health officials also touched on Health Directive 21, which was issued Wednesday and will go into effect Saturday, May 15. One of the biggest things in the latest health directive is the relaxing of mask requirements in Memphis and Shelby County.

Read more: Mask rules relaxed in Shelby County health directive starting Saturday

It will not be required that residents and visitors wear masks when out in public. However, private businesses still have the authority to require face coverings be worn on their premises. The city of Memphis said their public facilities will still require face masks.

“So, to give some examples, masks will be recommended at our outdoor venues like our parks and our zoo and at the botanic garden but at the indoor portion of those facilities, in the city of Memphis, specifically masks will be required,” McGowen said.

Related: Will masks be required in your child’s school? Local districts weigh in

The messaging from the city of Memphis was very clear: While you don’t have to wear a mask, health officials still feel it is prudent to do so until we are truly out of the pandemic. They encouraged residents to continue to wash your hands, social distance and get vaccinated.

“With 77% of new cases now being in African Americans, these are predominantly clustered in north and south Memphis, and those are the areas where we haven’t had the greatest vaccine penetration,” said Dr. Jon McCullers with UT Health Science Center. “So particularly with the loosening up of the mask regulations now, we need to be in those neighborhoods, we need to championing vaccinations.”

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