Shelby County Health Department stops short of mandating facial coverings in public

Shelby County Health Department responds to debate over mask requirement

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The idea of requiring people in Shelby County to wear masks or facial coverings has emerged as a political issue among the Shelby County Commission in the past week.

But the Shelby County Health Department clarified Tuesday that at this point they won’t mandate people to wear the coverings.

Public health officials said Tuesday they are focused on gaining compliance with the public on mask usage amid the pandemic, advising it should be done anytime you are in close contact with those who do not reside in your household.

Shelby County Commission resolution urges health officials to require masks

“It’s important we create a social environment where masks are the norm,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director, “We want to focus on educating the public.”

Shelby County Commissioners Monday night in an 8-5 vote passed a resolution urging health officials to require masks to be worn by people in public.

Monday’s action was a watered-down version of a tougher initial ordinance proposed by Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who said she got backlash from it.

“I did not think this would stir up this much anger or vitriol,” Sawyer said Monday evening.

Shelby County Attorney Marlinee Iverson wrote a letter to Shelby County Commission Chair Mark Billingsley Saturday saying the body did not have the authority to require face coverings, and it instead fell to the Shelby County Health Department through its latest health directives, at the executive order of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

City and county leaders urging residents to wear masks in public

Leaders at the health department said Tuesday they did not feel the mandate was needed right now but advised they would make the call if it was warranted.

“Dr. Randolph and I will continue to explore the movement from recommend to require, but as of today our position is we would prefer to use that strong language at a time when it is deemed most necessary,” said Haushalter.

Public health officials said currently facial coverings are required for employees of businesses open and interacting with the public. They advised that businesses can require patrons inside wear them as a condition of service.

Memphis City Council members approved a facial covering ordinance Tuesday afternoon on second reading with no debate. The council’s ordinance must get a favorable vote on third reading in two weeks to pass.

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