Updated at 5:00 p.m.
The Metro Board of Health voted unanimously this afternoon to require a face covering in public. The specific rules will be drafted in the next 48 hours and likely implemented by Monday.
Disagreement has surfaced in recent days between Mayor John Cooper, who has wanted to mandate masks for everyone, and the director of Metro Health, Dr. Michael Caldwell.
Caldwell has said he is trying to avoid a backlash and doesn’t want to add to the “tension” by imposing a rule that would be tricky to enforce. At Friday afternoon’s emergency meeting, called by board chair Alex Jahangir, Caldwell said he had come around somewhat on the benefits of a mandate. But he noted that some places that mandated masks in May have since rescinded their orders.
Dr. Jahangir, who also chairs the city’s coronavirus task force, says science is on the side of requiring masks. He pushed hard for the rules to be ironed out over the weekend, even if they’re not perfect.
“Every day we wait, people die,” he says. “We have the ability within our emergency declaration to start with a policy, and it can be amended as time goes on.”
The Metro Public Health Department will have to decide whether the mandate also applies to some outdoor venues and how the city will handle enforcement.
Memphis has a mask mandate that took effect Thursday. The city council voted last week to require masks for everyone in public places, with some exceptions. Enforcement, however, will primarily be through verbal warnings.
Statewide, Tennessee officials have not wanted to require masks, though they have pushed harder in recent weeks for residents to follow their recommendations.