New health directive expected this week, mask mandate could be gone in a month

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 14, 2021 7:53 AM CT | Published: April 13, 2021 12:27 PM CT

The Shelby County Health Department will issue a new health directive this week, opening up buffet lines and likely adding dancing and live music back to clubs and bars.

The new directive of rules for what is acceptable for public conduct in a pandemic will address upcoming evictions and rules landlords must follow in notifying tenants. 

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“As you know, our numbers overall are still declining, although there’s some indication that in the last few days, there’s been some leveling off or a slight increase,” Health Department health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said Tuesday, April 13. “We’re monitoring that.”

It’s possible the health directive will be relaxed again in about a month if the numbers do not surge. Those changes could include opening up festivals and large gatherings as other states have done.

Randolph characterized the changes as putting responsibility on individuals, as each successively less restrictive health directive has done since late December.

“We think we have provided an ample amount of information as it relates to the preventive measures that you as an individual should take,” he said, including masking, social distancing and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.

This week, Health Directive N0. 20 is expected to outline how hand sanitizers are to be used around buffet lines and other changes that may include indoor dancing in establishments.

Assuming case numbers do not dramatically increase, changes in 30 days could eliminate the use of masks.

“The mask mandate is something that we will consider,” Randolph said.

But in the event he was getting too far ahead of himself, he seemed to back-pedal, saying the face mask is “the simplest tool we have. It is shown to be the most effective.”

“And we would have to have really good reasons to get rid of it, but we’ll re-evaluate all of our measures to be able to match them with what the data is suggesting,” Randolph said.

In the early days of the pandemic, he said, “when we were not fully knowledgeable of what we were dealing with, and the numbers were increasing, we instituted the typical public health measures to try to control the transmission of this virus.”

Restaurants were shut down and masks were mandatory in the public arena.

It became clearer as the pandemic wore on and the viral transmission was better understood that individuals could do more to protect themselves than government mandates could accomplish.

“Then it should move from a requirement to a recommendation, move from must to should,” Randolph said. “And so, we are looking at that. If the data continues to support that trend’s position, that is the direction I feel we need to go.”

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Health Directive No. 20 Dr. Bruce Randolph
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.

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