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Masks Required in Public, Enforcement Minimal

Facial coverings are now required when in public spaces.
WKNO File
Facial coverings are now required when in public spaces.
Facial coverings are now required when in public spaces.
Credit WKNO File
Facial coverings are now required when in public spaces.

Listen to an audio version of the file.

For Memphis City Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren, the magic number is 60. That’s the percentage of people, he says, who need to be masked at least 60 percent of the time while indoors to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. 

Warren was the driving force behind a new city ordinance, passed Tuesday, requiring facial coverings in public places. The ordinance passed in a 9-4 vote after a lengthy debate about how to ensure compliance without strong enforcement. 

“The...thing that we want to do is to let people know that this is serious,” Warren says. “So now this isn’t a recommendation, this is a law.”  

Exemptions to the rule include very young children and a broad exception for those who have medical reasons not to wear one, such as a person with asthma whose breathing is inhibited by a mask. 

Councilmembers opposed to the ordinance argued that enforcement would be a problem. Currently, only warnings will be issued. But Warren says if too many people flout the rule, the council will consider additional penalties. 

The aim is to get the public to take masks more seriously, Warren says, but not to the extent of social animosity. 

“As we go about this, we shouldn’t be yelling at people if they have masks on or if they have masks off,” he says. “We’re going to have to assume that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing with this law and we’ll monitor it and if that doesn’t seem like what’s happening, then we have the ability to add more onerous provisions or punishments to it.” 

Inan update on Tuesday, Mayor Jim Strickland said he’s still reviewing the ordinance to understand how it might be enforced. 

State lawmakers are already challenging the constitutionality of the new rule. Republican Senator Brian Kelsey, whose district includes Germantown and parts of East Memphis, sent a letter to the state’s attorney generalasking him to issue an opinion. 

It appears Memphis is the first major metropolitan area in Tennessee to enact such a measure. 

Copyright 2020 WKNO

Katie joined the WKNO team in 2019. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org