Ending the mandate

The Shelby County mask mandate is back up for discussion and local journalists are questioning whether the Health Department might lift the rule.

The mandate was imposed on July 3, after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gave that authority to the state’s six local health departments.

Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said lifting the mask mandate “is something we would consider,” but added that, “the mask is the simplest tool that we have that’s shown to be most effective, and we would need to have good reasons to get rid of it.”

According to Fox 13, “Dr. Randolph said this decision would be based on data.”

Well, let’s take a look.

Measuring compliance

A study by the University of Memphis School of Public Health measuring mask use and compliance before and after the mandate found that mask wearing jumped from 52 percent in June to 92 percent in July.

When Fox 13 did a follow-up story on September 9, a fresh survey had found 96 percent of people observed wore a mask the previous month.

The University repeated the study in September, October, November and December and found “sustained high levels of compliance (95-96%).”

Unfortunately, such high levels of compliance with the mandate did not prevent the new case rate from rising.

Between the Sept. 9 news report and the local peak in December, new cases rose 705 percent, from 109 to 883 (7-day averages).

Statewide mandate

The day following our local new cases peak, Gov. Lee gave a primetime address responding to heightened pressure to impose a statewide mask mandate.

In his speech on December 20, the governor limited public gatherings but declined to impose a statewide mandate.

Based on his refusal and the recent detection of new variants, health officials were predicting disaster in the new year.

Instead, from that date through this week, new cases in Tennessee fell from 9,024 to 1,049, dropping 88 percent.

The bottom line

In summary, the Shelby County mandate did not keep local cases from rising by a factor of eight, and the absence of a statewide mandate did not stop statewide cases from falling to a tenth of the previous level.

And despite highly-effective vaccines now being available to any adult in Shelby County, the health authorities are as committed as ever to your continued obedience with the most visual and symbolic aspect of their dictates.

There is no exit strategy.

Meanwhile, health officials continue to ignore their own mandates during news conferences.