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.

Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Back to Business, balancing the budget

It’s another meeting day for the Shelby County Commission, and we have a couple of important items on the agenda.

Before we get into that, let’s check in on the coronavirus situation.

Back to Business

Today Shelby County has entered Phase 1 of the local mayors’ Back-To-Business plan, which relaxes their previous orders restricting business in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We’ve been following the numbers daily on my Facebook page, but here’s one last look at the stats as things stood while we were still fully in shutdown mode.

Shelby County



Balancing the budget

One result of all the reduced economic activity is lower revenue projections for local government as we come to the conclusion of budget season.

Shelby County is in the same boat as other governments that are facing not only a shortfall in the current fiscal year but also lowered revenue expectations for the coming one that begins July 1.

Hits to county revenue sources such as uncollected court costs, car registration fees, and the like have reduced what is coming in. Some of these collections are at best delayed until later in the year.

And while Shelby County government does not rely as heavily on sales tax revenues as the City of Memphis and other municipalities, lowered sales tax collections will hit the bottom line of Shelby County Schools.

These and other factors have led the administration of Mayor Lee Harris to present Commissioners with a proposed budget that cuts $13 million, absorbs more than $16 million in reduced revenues and uses an additional $7.3 million from the rainy day fund. Mayor Harris also balances his proposed budget by raising an estimated $10.5 million in increased motor vehicle registration fees.

Neither side of the Harris budget has been well received by the County Commission. In two separate votes in committee on Wednesday, Commissioners rejected both the FY21 proposed budget and the wheel tax increase.

The proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget

Following last Monday’s 7-hour budget meeting, the Commission in committee on Wednesday voted to amend and replace next year’s proposed budget with the current year budget.

We took the entire proposed budget and said, “no thanks.”

Mine was the only No vote on this amendment.

As I explained in committee, a continuing budget is fine… if you have continuing revenues. But that’s not the case.

This budget, as it stands currently, strikes $13 million in spending cuts proposed by Harris and ignores the reduced revenue projection of $16 million, creating a large budget gap while ignoring other new needs for the coming year.

The budget as amended does strike one-time expenses from FY20, but the finance department tells us that only saves about $1.5 million.

I asked one question in committee: what is the total budget amount as amended? The budget chair was unable to answer my question, and I was told they would have to figure that out by conferring later with the administration.

I believe the Commission will find a way back to a balanced budget, and possibly without a tax increase, but I find our process frustrating.

Basically what we said with this amendment was that we had to vote for it to find out what’s in it. That’s no way to do business.

Another round on the wheel tax

Commissioners also cast a vote on a resolution to increase the wheel tax by an additional $16.50 per vehicle.

This is separate from the two previous wheel tax increase proposals debated earlier in the year that would have gone to fund MATA.

Under the Mayor’s proposal, proceeds from this fee increase would go to education, to free up property tax revenues for other purposes.

No Commissioners voted in favor. Even the sponsor abstained.

However, this was a committee vote, and it will be heard again by the full Commission this afternoon.


Abortion is essential?

Tennessee Democrats practiced some antisocial distancing this week, separating themselves from their longest-serving state legislator.

The party removed State Representative John DeBerry from the Democratic primary ballot and deprived Memphis voters of a choice (imagine that) for one reason only: his opposition to abortion.

The Democratic party has made it abundantly clear there will be no tolerance for pro-life leaders like Rep. DeBerry.

“The so-called party of inclusion is everything but inclusive. It’s all about thinking with one brain, marching in step and following the company line, sitting there like a brainless idiot and letting them tell you what to do.”

– John DeBerry

While most Tennesseans were focused on remaining “Safer at Home,” Democrats were busy ensuring unborn lives would be less safe in the House.

Meanwhile, a federal judge was busy formulating an even more ridiculous decision.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that abortion is an essential activity that must continue even while nearly every other business in Tennessee is closed by state order.

Do we need any more evidence that our society has been infected by a virus every bit as lethal as this current pandemic?

If anything constitutes a civil emergency, it is this: a government mandate that all business must end except the business of killing.

Feature image by Sean Braisted.

Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Safer At Home

Shelby County leaders have joined a unified effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is what’s happening around the county.

Safer At Home. Memphis, Shelby County and each of its municipalities have issued Safer At Home orders asking residents to limit movement and to avoid congregating.

Coronavirus fatality. Shelby County reported its first COVID-19 death.

Coronavirus testing. The number tested locally (2,218) was reported for the first time, showing a qualified 10% positivity rate.

Economic turmoil. In addition to the immediate health impact, the outbreak has dealt devastating blows to the national and local economy.

Online meetings. The County Commission plans to meet electronically through the month of May.

Voting machines. The Shelby County Election Commission will meet electronically on Wednesday to select a new voting system.

Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Shelby County from a distance

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all regular business in Shelby County, across the nation and around the world. But we’re all doing our best to adapt and press ahead. Here are some brief updates.

Public health. The number of confirmed cases in Shelby County rose to 84 this morning. Follow the latest news and recommendations from the Shelby County Health Department, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Cenders for Disease Control and Prevention.

Economic relief. Tennessee small businesses can receive economic injury disaster loan assistance from the Small Business Administration.

Online meetings. Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order permitting local governments to temporarily conduct business meetings electronically. Today’s meeting of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners will be the first with members participating from remote locations.

Bartlett Bear Hunt. Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald has launched #BartlettBearHunt to help create a positive distraction for younger kids. Pictured above is our contribution, a Bartlett barista bear. I encourage your family to join the fun.

Dr. Manny for U.S. Senate. Healthy Tennessee founder Dr. Manny Sethi appeared on the Fox Business channel nearly two months ago, offering his expertise on the virus. We need to send someone to Washington, D.C. who is well informed and equipped to face difficult challenges like these. Dr. Manny has my support.

Neighbors in need. I’m hearing from all kinds of people whose lives, organizations and families have been disrupted by this crisis. If you have a special need the county might be able to address or information you think local government should consider, please contact me via email or drop a message on social media.