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West Memphis Mayor enacting rules to ‘strongly recommend’ masks in public

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 5:47 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The City of West Memphis wants the community to put their masks back on. While the city does not have the authority to enact another mask mandate, Mayor Marco McClendon said he’s reinstating an ordinance that strongly suggests masking while in public.

This is all due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Crittenden County and around the Mid-South.

At West Memphis City Hall many of the regular COVID-19 protocols are still in place, including mandating masks while inside. Right now, these are just rules here at City Hall. In Arkansas, a new law prohibits municipalities from enacting a community-wide mask mandate.

“I think it’s time we take proactive measures to keep the people of our city safe,” Mayor McClendon said.

McClendon is making the decision to reinstate a city ordinance and resolution strongly recommending masks in public after learning there are now 99 active COVID-19 cases in Crittenden County. Less than three weeks ago, that number was less than 30.

“Obviously we are not passing a mask mandate because I don’t have the authority to do that,” McClendon said. “Our governor and our legislative body has deemed that illegal. What I’m doing is asking citizens to use good judgment.”

McClendon said if he had the authority he would probably enact another mask mandate. Now, something else is his top priority.

“I guess during this time my main thing is to promote the vaccination,” McClendon said.

“I want people to get the COVID shots. The COVID shot is the main thing to get rid of this stuff,” West Memphis resident Alma King said.

Crittenden County has a 27 percent vaccination rate. Its COVID-19 test positivity rate is almost as high at 24 percent.

King is part of that 27 percent.

“I got my COVID shots why can’t anyone else get theirs? It keeps people safe,” King said. “You want your mother safe, you want your daddy safe, you want your kids safe.”

McClendon said most family physicians in the county are offering the vaccine. Bosch in West Memphis is even holding a vaccination event for employees.

“We are nowhere near the end if we only have 27 percent vaccinated,” West Memphis EMA Director DeWayne Rose said.

Arkansas is also experiencing ICU capacity as it saw during the pandemic’s peak after the holidays. The University of Arkansas Medical Sciences hospital said its peak during that time was 63 people in the ICU with COVID-19.

On Monday it saw 66 people.

It’s this kind of surge that made Tennessee health officials point out Memphis as getting hit hard by the delta variant because of its proximity to Arkansas. McClendon sees that correlation and knows similar trends can affect Memphis and West Memphis at the same time.

McClendon said sitting at a major crossroads of America and next to a large city like Memphis puts The City of West Memphis at a spot where COVID-19 transmission can be even more rampant.

“West Memphis is closer to Downtown Memphis than a lot of Memphis is to downtown Memphis,” said McClendon. “So, I cannot not look at their numbers.”

While both cities are currently seeing COVID-19 surges, both are also outpacing its state’s COVID-19 test positivity rate.

Shelby County reported an 11.1 percent positivity rate. Tennessee’s rate is right at 10 percent. Arkansas is reporting a 14 percent test positivity rate.

“We’re going to work with our COVID task force to push more education,” McClendon said. “We want to get more to the impoverished communities to get vaccination shots over there. So individuals can walk out of their homes and get vaccinated.”

Crittenden County works with Shelby County frequently on strategies to fight this pandemic as area representatives sit on the Memphis Shelby County Joint COVID-19 Task Force.

McClendon said, if given a chance, he hopes Governor Asa Hutchinson can reverse a rule prohibiting municipalities from issuing mask mandates.

“West Memphis is in a different position than any other city, outside of Texarkana, in the state,” said McClendon. “When you have numbers steadily rising in Memphis, TN it can do nothing but affect us.”

Between Sunday and Monday, Shelby County recorded 279 cases. In all of Tennessee, there were more than 1,500 cases reported in that time period. Arkansas reported just over 1,000

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