Memphis official: It’s not reasonable to lift mask mandates yet, following state’s request

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County health officials said they are evaluating a request from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to lift masks mandates before Memorial Day weekend.

On Tuesday, Lee signed Executive Order 80, which ends local authorities’ power to issue mask requirements in 89 counties that are under the purview of the state health department. 

He has sent a request to the remaining six counties with independent health departments, including Shelby, asking their health departments to lift the restrictions by the end of May. The city of Memphis has a mask ordinance in place.

“A widely available vaccine changes everything and it’s a new season in Tennessee. I am not renewing any public health orders because COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency in our state,” Lee said in a series of tweets. “Remaining executive actions will address a few lingering economic and regulatory issues. We have never had a statewide mask mandate and I am removing authority from local officials to issue mask requirements. I have asked mayors in our Big 6 counties to remove any remaining mask mandates AND business restrictions before Memorial Day Weekend.”

During the Memphis/Shelby County Joint COVID Task Force meeting Tuesday, Memphis COO Doug McGowen said the city has about 30 days to evaluate Lee’s request and make a decision one way or the other on masks. The city’s legal team is reviewing the impact of the governor’s request on the city’s mask ordinance.

“We are not there yet to the point where it is reasonable to lift a mask requirement,” McGowen said. “We need more people to be vaccinated before we begin to have that conversation.”

As of Tuesday, just over 306,000 people have been vaccinated, more than 101,000 have been partially vaccinated and more than 204,000 have been fully vaccinated.

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