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Public masking relaxed as new directive takes effect

The new Shelby County Health Directive released on Wednesday was issued as other positive COVID-19 news is being reported.

The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12-15, and children can receive the vaccine as early as Friday, May 14. Also, the national death toll has declined to a 10-month low.

Although the mandate for wearing masks in public is no longer in effect, Shelby Countians shouldn’t throw all their masks away just yet.

“In my estimation, I would say that it was time for the mandate to go away,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Medical Officer of the Shelby County Health Department. “We have avoided a surge, like some other places have experienced. So we are doing well.

“While there is no ‘order’ to wear masks, there are ‘strong recommendations’ for when masking makes sense.”

The new health directive very specifically outlines when masks should be worn. Businesses and restaurants have the discretion of still requiring patrons to wear masks as long as visible signage remains posted. Also, buildings operated by local, state or federal authorities may require masks as per conspicuously posted signs.

Travelers boarding public airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles must continue to wear a mask as long as they are traveling within the U.S. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the end of statewide public health orders for the 89 counties under state health. Shelby County was among the six largest counties that operate their own health departments.

“New daily case numbers and the levels of vaccination in Shelby County give us reason to be optimistic that we will continue to move in the right direction,” said Randolph. “Taking personal responsibility for one’s health will move us closer and closer to a higher level of normalcy.”

Randolph said there is still work to do as health officials continue to encourage everyone who has not been vaccinated to come in for the vaccine.

In related COVID-19 news, Mayor Lee Harris is taking his case for vaccinations right  into the communities where vaccine hesitancy appears to be prevalent.

On Thursday and Friday (May 13-14), Harris’ office staff will lead dozens of volunteers to the 38106 ZIP code to dispel misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. According to health department statistics, coronavirus infection rates in 38106 are among the highest in the county, while vaccination rates remain among the lowest.

The volunteers, including some from the Shelby County Health Department, members of the COVID-19 Community Council, Memphis For All, and 38106 residents, plan to target several hundred households for the “Get the Facts, Trust the Vax” campaign.

They will distribute free masks and brochures that answer frequently asked questions about the vaccine’s development and its safety. It also has the locations for nearby vaccine sites and Memphis Area Transit Authority routes to help get there.

City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen also said the county is anticipating vaccinating children as young as 12 within the week. Guidance and approval from the state health department, McGowan said, is needed before those plans are implemented.

Meanwhile, going without masks should be done thoughtfully and with forethought, Randolph said. Masking outside with adequate spacing from others is safe, especially for those who have already been vaccinated.

There were 351 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in Shelby County to 96,863. Three deaths were reported, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,632.

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