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Shelby County Commission one step closer to requesting countywide mask mandate

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 10:04 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2021 at 4:51 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County Commission is one step closer to asking the health department to reinstate a countywide mask mandate.

Cases are exploding. Memphis metro hospitals say they’re bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients. Doctors say the majority of the patients are unvaccinated.

So, local leaders are urging you to get the shot and mask up while they debate returning the citizens of Shelby County to a mask order.

The spike in COVID-19 cases is very worrisome to Shelby County commissioners. The daily average is now 447, nearly double what it was a month ago.

“The trajectory looks literally like a rocket ship right now, going straight up,” said Commissioner Mark Billingsley.

The commission is looking to the new head of the Shelby County Health Department, Dr. Michelle Taylor, for guidance as they debate bringing back the mask mandate.

“I don’t want to cause a panic, but this is very different from what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic,” Taylor told the commission Wednesday.

Taylor says the Delta variant spreads faster and impacts more young adults and children. She says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed a cluster in Massachusetts showed the vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.

“What they found in a large population there is that even folks who are fully vaccinated can carry as much of a viral load as folks who are not vaccinated,” Taylor said.

Taylor says masking up makes sense.

But the new Shelby County Health Directive issued this week only recommends wearing a mask. Tuesday, the Memphis City Council asked the health department to make it a mandate. The Shelby County Commission is learning that way, too, as hospitalizations trend up.

The Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare system reports 211 hospitalized COVID patients. Forty-eight of those COVID patients are in ICU.

“Hospitals across the system are seeing an onslaught of new COVID patients, and we are in a war against this pandemic,” said hospital spokesperson Rachel Powers. “Unless we change course, we are headed toward our darkest days.”

The Shelby County Commission will vote Monday, August 9 on whether to reinstate the mask mandate.

“We will continue to follow CDC guidelines and let that be our North Star,” Taylor told the group. “But I also want to arm you with information as you make decisions as our county commissioners.”

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