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Mask Mandate Now Countywide; Gov. Lee Authorizes as Case Numbers Soar

Around 150 people can be tested each day at UTHSC's drive-up tent at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
Around 150 people can be tested each day at UTHSC's drive-up tent at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Around 150 people can be tested each day at UTHSC's drive-up tent at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Credit The University of Tennessee Health Science Center

It's official: facial coverings are now required in businesses and public places countywide. An emergency directive was issued early Friday by the Shelby County Health Department as the infection rate here continues to skyrocket. 

This afternoon, Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order 54 authorizing the mayors of 89 Tennessee counties to issue local mask requirements, erasing questions of legality at the local level. 

"Our local governments expressed a need for greater flexibility in addressing a rise in cases and that includes setting stronger expectations around masks," Gov. Lee said in a statement. "This targeted approach ensures we protect both lives and livelihoods and safely keep our economy open in Tennessee. We encourage every Tennessean across the state to use a face covering or mask, make sure to socially distance and wash hands frequently."

Shelby County's mask rule requires everyone over the age of 12 to be masked, though the directive doesn't spell out penalties for going out without one.

The new mandate comes after two days of record COVID-19 infections -- 442 on Friday, with 282 people currently hospitalized. The positivity rate -- based on the number of people testing positive -- is on the rise, about 12% today, up from just over 9% a week ago. 

As people across the county plan gatherings for the holiday weekend, health department director Alisia Haushalter expects to see even more infections next week. The fallout could result in more restrictions for businesses where people gather. 

"We will look more closely at bars and the role they play in transmission and our transmission rate as well as restaurants and some other facilities," Haushalter said. 

Nashville closed its bars starting today for the next two weeks. 

More than four out of every 10 people currently being infected are under the age of 34. While Tennessee now has more than 45,000 cases, nearly half of those have originated in Shelby and Davidson counties -- Memphis and Nashville -- with more than 10,000 each.

More Memphis News:

Charts and Statististics on Recent COVID-19 Infections

More on Shelby County's Mandate

More on Gov. Lee's Order

Copyright 2020 WKNO

A native "Florida Man," Christopher started in this business as a copy clerk at the renowned St. Petersburg Times before persuading editors to let him write. He moved to Memphis in 2001 to cover arts and entertainment at the Commercial Appeal. Since then, he has contributed to nearly every publication in Shelby County, writing features on everything from the Civil War to Civil Rights. Also, Elvis... a lot of Elvis.