New health directive loosens restrictions, including mask-wearing

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — You won’t have to wear a mask in most places in Memphis and Shelby County starting Saturday.

Residents will not be required to wear masks out in public, but private businesses, including stores and restaurants, can still require customers and employees to wear them.

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Dr. Jon McCullers with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center said over the past six weeks he’s been urging the Shelby County Health Department not to lift the mask mandate.

But he said after seeing the number of variant cases decline, he feels more comfortable about the decision.

He also said about 70 percent of Shelby County residents are immune thanks to either having had COVID or getting a vaccine.

Although mask requirements are loosening, Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said wearing them is still strongly encouraged.

“Particularly if you’re in a situation you haven’t been vaccinated, you’re in a crowded place, at risk, wear your mask,” Randolph said. “The pandemic still exists. The virus is still around. People will continue to get infected, and, unfortunately, some will die.”

Additionally, the city of Memphis said their public facilities will still require face masks.

As Shelby County eases its mask mandate this weekend, it’s now vaccinating anyone 12 and older.

Health officials said they began administering the shot into younger arms Thursday.

In the last 14 days, the health department reports 23 percent of cases have been pediatric.

With the increasing number of cases in kids, deputy health director David Sweat said we’re going to see more kids who are sick.

That’s why he and other health leaders urge every parent to get their kids vaccinated.

Sweat said 15 percent of kids in the county have had COVID, and 85 percent are still susceptible.

Dr. McCullers said although kids don’t usually get as sick from the virus, there are exceptions.

“We have seen plenty of kids at the intensive care units at Le Bonheur this past year. We know kids do get sick with this,” he said.

Children aren’t the only people officials are urging to get vaccinated. So far, the health department said the county is 47 percent to its vaccine campaign goal.