Can Shelby County safely be mask-free by Memorial Day?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Governor Bill Lee wants Shelby County and five other counties controlled by local health departments to lift mask mandates and business restrictions by Memorial Day.

However, city and county leaders worry the timing might be too soon because not even 25 percent of the county is fully vaccinated.

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Pastor Ricky Floyd said we need to get people vaccinated in places they feel safe like his church in Frayser.

He believes there is low turnout at the permanent vaccine site in Frayser because people are not familiar with that location.

“Do we think if the governor does not lift the mask mandate or does not open up businesses that that’s going to increase people getting vaccines?” asked Floyd.

“That’s not a reality.”

Floyd agreed with Lee’s push to lift the mask mandate and business restrictions by Memorial Day but he still wants Memphis-Shelby County leaders to focus on getting more people vaccinated.

Right now, there is a low turnout.

Floyd said in order to fix that, people need to get vaccinated in locations they are familiar with like his church, The Pursuit of God Transformation Center in Frayser.

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Frayser is listed as one of the least vaccinated areas in the county, a community struggling with high COVID-19 case rates.

“We didn’t go early enough in the game to places where people have come and had funerals, graduations, been fed, been housed and been clothed,” said Floyd.

He said earlier this month, his church was a pop-up vaccine location that vaccinated over 300 people.

Meanwhile, the city site at the Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Gill Center administered about 123 shots in three days.

City officials said that the site is capable of vaccinating 300 people a day.

“I have other members who have lived in the Frayser community for 15 years and they had to think 3 minutes before they could tell me where the Gill campus was,” he said.

In general, the City of Memphis and Shelby County health department admits that the vaccine turnout is low.

It’s one of the reasons why they are concerned about Lee’s request which asks for mask mandates and business restrictions to be lifted by Memorial Day.

“Our percentage is not as high as other communities, we are not there yet where its reasonable to lift a mask requirement,” said City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen.

“We need more people to be vaccinated before we begin to have that conversation.”

Floyd believed percentages will go up but we need to make it easier for folks to find their way.

“This is a pop-up, if pop-ups have proven to be successful why not turn pop-ups into permanents when the permanents are not successful,” said Floyd.

The Shelby County health department said they are working with their legal team to see if the mask ordinance will still stand or be affected by the governor’s request.

FOX13 asked the City of Memphis if they will consider more churches at permanent vaccine locations.

A spokesperson said we will receive a response on Wednesday.