MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County’s COVID-19 cases surged past 11,000 heading into the holiday weekend, setting new records for daily case increases and weekly positivity rates. The spike has health officials now signing off on a countywide mask mandate.
Not long ago Shelby County was seeing 100 to 200 new COVID-19 cases a day. It is now, for the most part, consistently 300 or more cases.
Leaders at the Shelby County Health Department now say they believe it’s within their authority to require people to wear masks in public.
For a week now, a mask mandate has been in effect in the City of Memphis. But for weeks, the Shelby County Health Department was not sure it had the legal authority to issue one for the whole county.
Now Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter says she feels confident she can issue the mandate.
“We had other communities move forward with masking, particularly the City of Memphis, but ultimately Nashville did it through their Board of Health, which allowed us to have additional conversations with the state,” Dr. Haushalter said. “Based on those conversations and how they evolved we feel confident we have the authority.”
Dr. Haushalter said the Health Department’s directive will look like Nashville’s, which requires masks on everyone older than 12 years old who is medically able while inside buildings.
Masks are not required when eating or drinking, while outside, while exercising or in schools among other things. Dr. Haushalter said there are no specific enforcement measures at this time.
“Those can be added as we move forward. We already have the ability to enforce in restaurants and other places we inspect,” Dr. Haushalter said.
The announcement came during an unexpected briefing by the COVID-19 joint task force. Friday the Tennessee Department of Health reported a total of 11,145 COVID-19 cases in Shelby County. That is 101 more cases than the Shelby County Health Department announced that morning.
It was another single-day record for the county with the health department announcing 442 new cases. Shelby County’s latest weekly positivity rate also jumped from 10.3 percent to 12.7 – the highest of the pandemic.
“That’s indication of transmission in the community and we are concerned,” Shelby County Health Officer Bruce Randolph said.
The Health Department also said a formal announcement on more restrictions will come early next week. Officials alluded to restrictions possibly being put on restaurants and bars.