Memphis mask mandate

Should residents and visitors in Shelby County be required to wear facial masks or facial coverings while out in public areas?

Should businesses be required to enforce mask usage inside their place of business?

Such a policy is being considered by the Shelby County Commission with a proposed ordinance appearing on the meeting agenda for a first reading on Monday, May 18.

Supporters point to the latest, revised recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the opinion of local experts.

While some opponents of the proposed ordinance cite earlier advice from experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci offered prior to the CDC’s latest guidance, other medical professionals still maintain that cloth face coverings do not provide protection against COVID-19 and may increase other risks.

Calls have poured into the County Commission office, almost universally opposed to the proposal.

The ordinance was considered in committee on Wednesday and was sent to the full commission with a favorable 5-4 vote.

Because the ordinance would institute a $50 fine, it requires a 2/3 majority on third reading, which is 9 yes votes.

I decided to put the question to a medical professional who has been a rare, steady and unbiased voice on all COVID-19 controversies. Jeffrey Galvin is a medical doctor from Charlotte, North Carolina, with board certification in emergency medicine.

Dr. Galvin posts daily videos on his YouTube channel, giving updates on COVID-19, sharing his advice and experience, answering questions and dismissing conspiracies.

My question: Should local governments require all residents to wear face coverings anytime they are outside their home? This is being debated now and there are experts on both sides. Would appreciate your opinion.

I had no idea if or how Dr. Galvin would respond, but he offered this quick reply in a comment on his latest video:

I don’t agree with that. Masks protect others from you if you happen to be asymptomatic but contagious. My feeling (and what I am doing) is to wear a mask inside stores and if I’m in close proximity to someone outside my family. I put the mask on when I go in, take it off when I leave. I look at it as being a good citizen. I don’t want to inadvertently infect someone vulnerable. Wearing one all the time makes no sense to me.

Dr. Jeffrey Galvin

That has been my practice as well. I wear a face covering when I am in close proximity to other people in indoor spaces, which I have kept to an absolute minimum for the past two months.

I do so not because a facial covering is likely to protect me, but out of respect and concern for others, and to set an example for the public – that we should all keep in mind our elderly and medically fragile friends, family members and neighbors.

But wearing a mask outside, in the heat, walking down the sidewalk or whatever, just makes absolutely no sense. There’s no way I would vote to force anyone to do that.

I believe it’s an equally bad idea to punish businesses for failing to control their customers and force them to become the mask police.

I’m just as adamant, however, that we need to respect the viewpoints of others. This is a very difficult time for everyone, and we’re all trying to do our best as the situation and our understanding of it continues to evolve.

Toward that end, I thought I would conclude by sharing the thoughts of two constituents representing both sides of the debate. Both are medical professionals and contacted me about the proposed ordinance. I am withholding their names and have removed some identifying information.

Dear Commissioner Wright:

I am a Lakeland resident and one of your constituents. I write to you in full support of the Shelby County mask ordinance. I am aware that it requires more readings before it would pass, and I urge you to support this. As a healthcare professional, I believe strongly in following scientific evidence and CDC guidance in making our decisions. I have been impressed with Shelby County’s approach to being thoughtful in gradually opening the economy. This will not be successful if citizens do not adhere to the recommendations to wear masks. In my (very non-scientific) observation of seeing people in my community, I will tell you that very few are doing this. I think without an ordinance, the majority will not wear them, we will see a spike in cases, and the economy as well as the health of our citizens will suffer.

I want to offer a brief anecdote to illustrate my opinion. This past weekend I went to Kroger to pick up groceries (I’m a ClickList fan even before COVID-19). As I was driving away, I saw a very elderly woman walking into the store with a mask on. I glanced around and noticed that literally not a single other shopper walking in or out was wearing a mask. It occurred to me that it communicated a clear message to her that everyone knows she is in the highest risk category and no one cares. I think having Shelby County residents wear masks in businesses is not only safer but also shows our most vulnerable that we care and that their lives and health matter to us.

Thank you for your time, and I hope you will support this effort to protect our citizens.

Dear Commissioner Wright,  

I am a constituent of yours and have lived in District 3 my entire life. My wife and I have lived in Lakeland for the past six years. I know this district well and love living in it.

I am concerned with the recent vote taken on a mask ordinance for the county. I am a nurse and I am pursuing a doctorate degree in anesthesia at the start of next month. I work in healthcare and am well aware of the risks associated with COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. I understand how transmission occurs and I understand how PPE functions. 

As one of your constituents, I feel obligated to email you and let you know that I do NOT support an ordinance that can force business owners to require masks in their establishments. I believe business owners have the right to decide mask requirements for themselves, just as customers reserve the right to visit or not visit businesses based on owners’ decisions.

I strongly urge you to vote NO on this issue and firmly oppose any future attempts to pass this, and any other ordinance, that will infringe upon the individual rights of business owners and citizens. Thank you so much for your time.