Masks were part of the standard uniform for the military and others who attended the tour of the new alternate COVID-19 site at the former Memphis Publishing Co. building. {Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners has adopted a resolution “urging health officials to require residents and visitors to wear face coverings through Sept.1.”

The measure, a safety precaution as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, was approved Monday (May 18) with an 8-5 vote during a marathon-like, online commission meeting that began at 11 a.m. and ended at 11:36 p.m.

Earlier this month, the Memphis City Council passed a similar ordinance. The ordinance requires three readings. Members are set to vote again during the regularly scheduled council meeting today (May 19).

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer proposed a county-side, mask-wearing measure last week that included a $50 fee for businesses that didn’t comply. On Monday she presented a revised measure, co-sponsored by Commissioner Van Turner Jr.

Sawyer said she “sifted through the noise and pulled out feedback that was constructive from people who supported and people who did not,” for the revised measure.

She changed the proposed ordinance to a resolution that urges health officials to require facial coverings, without the $50 in-compliance fee attached.

The change comes on the heels of County Attorney Marlinee C. Iverson’s opinion that commissioners didn’t have the power to require residents to wear masks. However, Iverson pointed out that the Shelby County Health Department could enforce it.

While local health officials have consistently suggested that residents wear facial coverings when out in public, they have yet to make it a requirement.

“One of the things that I continued to hear about the ordinance was that it was anti-business or anti-small business when in fact behind the ordinance now the resolution was to ensure that once we open we were able to stay open,” Sawyer said during the meeting.

After the resolution was adopted, Sawyer explained the intention around her original proposal.

“The intent behind the original ‘mask’ ordinance was to increase protections of Shelby Countians while reopening advances,” she wrote on her official page.

“Today (May 18), we entered Phase 2 of reopening and yet, there is no containment nor prevention of COVID19. The last thing anyone wants is for our county infection rate to spike and we find ourselves shutting down again…”

Phase 2 of the “Back to Business” plan comes amid rising coronavirus cases.

As of Tuesday morning, the reported case count of COVID-19 rose by 116 new cases, according to the Shelby County Health Department.

The increase in new cases pushed the total COVID-19 case count in the county to 3,877, up from 3,761 reported on Monday. Three additional fatalities from COVID-19 complications were reported on Tuesday, which brings the total dead in Shelby County to 88.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter didn’t immediately agree to the commissioners’ request for mask requirements, but said she plans to discuss the resolution with  Dr. Bruce Randolph, county health officer, in the coming days.

“This resolution will allow for a safer community all around and will be a path to the Healthy Shelby we want to see, so we can get back to business with the people’s health placed in the forefront,” Sawyer said.

The resolution also asks the county to provide masks for employees, visitors to county offices, jail detainees and Correctional Center inmates.