MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County health officials may drop the mask mandate and lift all business restrictions in a matter of days.
“We are making some changes which emphasize personal responsibility, recommendations rather than requirements, and “ should” rather than “must,”” Dr. Bruce Randolph with the Shelby County Health Department said.
The next health directive is expected to be released on May 12 and go into effect May 15.
The restrictions have been in place for more than a year and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has called on Shelby County to lift them by the end of this month.
Health officials on Tuesday said enough people are now immune to the virus that lifting the restrictions is a possibility. Fewer than 200 COVID patients are currently hospitalized in Shelby County which is well within the hospital system’s ability to care for them. Improved treatment has also led to fewer people dying.
The lifting of restrictions would reach from public places to stores to bars and restaurants, but Gov. Lee has already stated that private businesses will be allowed to enforce their own requirements.
Memphis and Shelby County wouldn’t stop urging residents to get vaccinated and use safety protocols, but after more than a year of living in a pandemic, elected officials believe residents know how to stay safe.
“It’s common-sense sort of things where if you’re going somewhere and you don’t know people’s status, you want to protect yourself,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, a physician and city council member.
Warren estimates about 40% of the local adult population has been vaccinated, while nearly 66% of adults have antibodies. He’s optimistic that with a strong rise in vaccinations, risks to residents could drop.
“We just gotta get another 80-100,000 people vaccinated and I think we’ll start to see the virus decline again,” Warren said.