Business COVID-19 restrictions could soon loosen in Shelby County; masks remain

Business restrictions could loosen in Shelby County but masks may remain

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Business restrictions could soon go from mandatory to recommended in Shelby County.

Mayor Lee Harris said the latest health directive will be released by mid-May and we’re on track to get rid of most of those restrictions.

Governor Bill Lee said he talked directly with Harris about getting rid of the business restrictions and mask mandate by Memorial Day. COVID-19 cases in Shelby County have been fluctuating, but Harris says we’re on track to getting rid of business restrictions. Figuring out what to do about masks remains a tougher issue.

“On May 13, there’s a great high probability we’ll be moving from a mandatory stage for restrictions to a recommended stage,” Harris said.

Harris said May 13 is when the next health directive will go into effect. Health leaders on Thursday said it’s likely we’ll have a better idea of what it will say by next week.

Currently, restrictions like social distancing and party sizes at restaurants remain in place.

“Back in April, in terms of the economic restrictions, we announced we were going to be reviewing the data for the next 30 days,” Harris said.

Harris said the data puts us on track to relax the restrictions even though the pandemic is still growing locally with a reproduction rate above one. Over the last seven days, Shelby County has averaged less than 150 cases a day. On Thursday and Friday, we logged another 175 and 187 cases respectively.

However, business restrictions only address one of the governor’s requests.

Harris wasn’t as clear about what the next health directive will say about masks. He said the discussion has new legs given the CDC updated guidance on masks this week.

The organization recommends vaccinated people can go maskless for most activities outdoors.

“So, the questions at the local level is how do you reconcile our health directive at the local level with CDC guidance,” Harris said.

The thing the community does not have to make the issue of a mask mandate easier to figure out is herd immunity. Harris said vaccination numbers are still well under what he’d like to see. Now, more than 311,000 people have at least one shot, but that’s still not even half way to herd immunity.

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