Worship on the block: Pentecostal Temple Institutional Church Of God In Christ, 229 S. Danny Thomas Blvd., hosted a Worship & Block Party Celebration last Sunday (May 2) to encourage church members and people in the neighborhood to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Bishop C. H. Mason Patterson Sr. is the pastor. (Photos: Tyrone P. Easley)

Barring some drastic change in the welcomed decline of new COVID-19 infections, a new health directive that may loosen mask mandates could be issued as soon as next week.

“Lifting the mask mandate does not mean throw all caution to the wind,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Medical Officer for the Shelby County Health Department. “Whenever a new health directive is issued removing the county’s requirement to wear masks in public, then a sense of personal responsibility should take its place.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee ended public health orders to wear masks in the 89 counties across the state that are directed by the state Health Department last week. Lee asked the largest six counties that operate their own health departments to follow suit and withdraw their mandatory mask orders. 

And according to a tweet posted by Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County may join the ranks of the un-mask counties. He said the county is “considering dropping its remaining COVID-19 restrictions,” along with the mask mandate.

A new directive next week will most probably make business restrictions such as social distancing in restaurants and other public venues “recommendations” rather than orders.

Masking is also expected to be recommended, but not required.

Considering new cases numbers and levels of vaccinations across the county, rescinding mandatory precautions may be a logical move, if officials are still following the science.

Daily new case levels continue at an even keel.

Shelby County added 106 more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday (May 5) and three more deaths, bringing the numbers to a total of 96,050 cases and 1,623 deaths.

“As long as everyone commits to taking personal responsibility for their health and the health of those around them, then we should be just fine,” said Randolph. “We’re not saying just go back to business as usual, like the way things were pre-COVID-19. Just be conscious of going out in public, whether there may be a need to wear a mask, or maintain six feet of distance.”

Randolph said there are times when it will be perfectly fine to go without a mask. If a person has been fully vaccinated and is spending time with relatives and friends who have also been vaccinated, it should be perfectly fine to go without a mask.

If a person who has been vaccinated is outside and six feet away from other people, then going without a mask should be safe.

“There are scenarios that actually pose very little threat,” said Randolph. “But if you go out in public, and you have been fully vaccinated, to get around other people and you’re not sure of their status, whether or not they have been vaccinated yet or not, that may be a good time to put on a mask. It’s still a good idea to keep a mask with you at all times, just in case.”

Vaccination data shows that a total of 317,549 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine in Shelby County; 223,338 are now fully vaccinated, and 94,211 are waiting to receive their second shot. The county’s goal is to vaccinate 700,000 residents.

Randolph said although the demand for the vaccine is waning, health officials had expected a drastic decline after such a sustained demand for months.

 Only 12,673 doses were administered across the county in the last seven days. In comparison, nearly 32,000 doses were administered during the same week last month.