Shelby County Health Department mandating masks

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 03, 2020 10:23 PM CT | Published: July 03, 2020 12:03 PM CT
<strong>Teresa Andreuccetti goes for near full-face protection while biking on Main Street with her dog Meme in Downtown Memphis on May 1.</strong> (Daily Memphian file)

Teresa Andreuccetti goes for near full-face protection while biking on Main Street with her dog Meme in Downtown Memphis on May 1. (Daily Memphian file)

Shelby County Health Department is tightening its stance on facial coverings, making masking mandatory, officials announced in a Friday press conference.

“Our transmission is continuing to go up,” Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said, noting additional measures are needed as the positive rate rises.

Under the new directive, masks will be required in public places for anyone over age 2.

The announcement comes after two record days of positive COVID-19 tests. The county announced its highest-single day increase earlier Friday with 442 new positive cases. On Thursday, the Health Department reported 394 cases. Both days the positivity rate was more than 12%.

Coronavirus: Shelby County adds more than 440 cases

Dr. Bruce Randolph, the Health Department’s health officer, said the number of cases and the positivity rate contributed to the masking mandate. Randolph noted that in mid-May the rate was about 4.5%. In recent days, it has risen as high as 15%. 

“We want to get ahead of the game,” Randolph said. “We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation similar to Houston (and) Florida and so we are trying to take measures now to prevent that from happening.”

Those needing a mask may receive one from the Health Department. 

“It is crucial (to wear a mask),” Randolph said. “The only thing we really have to prevent the transmission of this virus is wearing a facial covering or a mask to prevent your respiratory droplets from going out to someone else.”

Randolph expressed concern about those who may have the virus without symptoms can spread it.

Previously, the Health Department said it legally did not have the authority to mandate masks. But Haushalter said the decision to make masking mandatory was an evolving matter and relied on her authority, along with Randolph’s.

Earlier, there were questions about the county’s limitations on making masks mandatory. Haushalter said when Nashville implemented the requirement through its board of health, additional conversations were held about Shelby County’s authority. 

“We find it necessary to take some measures to prevent the transmission of this virus and keep the numbers from rising more than we expect,” Randolph said.

Haushalter said it will mirror the mask mandate in Nashville. She said there will not be specific enforcement, but the directive can be updated to add them at a later date. 

Haushalter added issuing further restrictions is likely next week due to an expected increase in positive cases following Fourth of July festivities. She noted places of emphasis will include those where people can’t safely wear a mask.

“We will look more closely at bars and the role they play in transmission and our transmission rate as well as restaurants and some other facilities,” Haushalter said.

Randolph said the measures will help “encourage separation” and discourage gatherings where the virus could spread. 

“Settings where it is very difficult to maintain six feet of separation,” Randolph said of future restrictions. “Situations where people tend to not wear facial coverings or masks – where people yell, sing, shout, talk loud, et cetera – we find it necessary to take some other measures to try and prevent the transmission of this virus and try to keep our numbers from rising more than we anticipate them from doing.” 

Editor’s Note: Shelby County Health Department said during the Friday noon briefing masks were mandated for those over age 12. Friday afternoon, the Health Department clarified the directive that masks are required for anyone over age 2.


Coronavirus in Shelby County Face Masks Shelby County Health Department
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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