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Shelby County issues mask wearing ordinance: Here’s what it means and how it’s enforced
General Wellness

Shelby County issues mask wearing ordinance: Here’s what it means and how it’s enforced

By Your Health Staff
Posted: July 3, 2020

Shelby County has adopted an ordinance that requires people to wear facial coverings or masks while in businesses or public places within the city limits.

From Your Health: Are you wearing your face mask correctly? Here's how to make sure

The ordinance was issued on July 3, days after the City of Memphis issued similar guidance, in response to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and the rise in COVID-19 cases within the county.

What is purpose of mask ordinances?

The purpose of the ordinances is to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and limit the impact the virus has on the community — especially vulnerable populations and those with pre-existing conditions.

In doing so, it aims to protect people — by limiting the risk of exposure — who are visiting or working at essential businesses, those who are seeking care at healthcare facilities, people who use public transportation, or anyone engaging in everyday life.

In short, local government and health officials hope the ordinance will create an environment where everyone will feel safe when they are out and about.


When are masks are required?

The county's mask ordinance simply states face coverings "shall be worn at all times by members of the public." There are exceptions, which are outlined in Section 2 (page 3) of the document.

Memphis' mask ordinance is more detailed. It outlines specific situations in which a mask is required, including the following situations:

While inside (or in line to enter) of any essential or non-essential businesses — including grocery stores, convenience stores, laundromats and restaurants

While at or inside of government buildings

While in elevators

While obtaining healthcare services — including hospitals, clinics, COVID-19 testing sites, dentists, pharmacies, blood banks and more (full list on page five)

While using public transit or ride-sharing services

More or less, if you're away from home and out in public, the ordinances require you to wear a mask — unless you fall under one of the exceptions.


Who or when are you exempt from wearing a mask?

A face covering is not required under certain circumstances in both the city and the county.

According to the Shelby County ordinance, you are not required to wear a face covering in the following settings or circumstances:

In your own house or someone else's residence

By a child under two years of age

By those who cannot medically tolerate wearing a face covering

In your car or someone else's car, as long as it isn't being used for public transportation or vehicle for hire

In educations institutions, provided schools are complying with current health directives and orders

By people working along in separate offices or non-public workspaces

When wearing a mask poses a risk to safety or security

When eating or drinking in an establishment

While outdoors in public spaces, unless maintaining social distancing isn't possible

While engaged in outdoor work or recreational activities, unless maintaining social distancing isn't possible

While in a place of worship

While in a building or indoor space owned, managed or leased by the State of Tennessee or the federal government

The exceptions are outlined on page six of the City of Memphis ordinance, but they follow many of the same guidelines as the county.

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What does this mean for local businesses?

Businesses and facilities that are open to the public are required to post signage about local mask ordinances. That will include language that reads:

"Pursuant to Order of the Shelby County Health Officer for Shelby County, Tennessee, you are REQUIRED to wear a cloth face covering or mask while in this business/facility. This will help PROTECT our EMPLOYEES and EACH OTHER."

That means businesses must require customers and visitors to wear some sort of face covering. Their employees are also required to wear them when physically interacting with the public or other employees.


How is the ordinance being enforced?

Consequences for businesses or individuals not abiding by the ordinance may vary.

For example, in the Shelby County ordinance, there is not a section on enforcement.

However, the City of Memphis ordinance explains violators will be given a warning, and there is potential for the ordinance to include fines at a later time. We encourage you to read about enforcement beginning on page eight of the ordinance so that you can be well informed.


Why is wearing a mask important?

Wearing masks help us prevent the spread of COVID-19. Your Health tackled this subject in a previous blog entry titled How COVID-19 spreads and why it's important to wear a face mask in public.

COVID-19 mainly spreads through close contact from person-to-person.

The virus can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms (asymptomatic). Even people who are pre-symptomatic (will eventually develop symptoms) can transmit it before showing any signs. 

That means people who don’t look or feel sick can transmit the coronavirus — and that information led to the CDC’s recommendation that people where cloth face masks or coverings in public settings.

Read the full Shelby County Mask Ordinance

Read the full City of Memphis Mask Ordinance


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For updates from MLH facilities, community resources, COVID-19 FAQs and much more, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center


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