Just under two-thirds of Tennesseans are currently under a mask mandate, according to researchers from Vanderbilt University, who recently found that mandates are, in part, helping to lower hospitalization rates and COVID-19 related deaths.
Still, even under a mandate Shelby County officials are struggling to reduce local transmission, which they partly attribute to a lack of a statewide mask policy; the virus doesn't recognize county lines.
Shelby County is now averaging over 300 new cases a day over the past week, with some recent dramatic daily increases due to a reporting backlog, according to the health department.
So far, health and other officials have not reinstated any business restrictions, but new ones, they say might have a more targeted approach than previous regulations.
In the meantime, they’ve pointed to several other factors driving new cases, including people failing to stay home while they feel sick.
“One out of three of the people with COVID-19 disease we later find out were out in the community, going to work, going to school, doing their activities of daily living, going to church,” said David Sweat, deputy director for the Shelby County Health Department, at a Tuesday press conference. “They were shedding the virus, and that’s why the virus is spreading.”
He says to immediately seek testing if you develop even slight symptoms and isolate until results come back.
COVID-19, he adds, is also spreading because of inconsistent mask use.
“People are very good about using PPE when they’re interacting with customers, or in the healthcare setting, when they’re going in to take care of patients, but they become lax when they’re in interactions with their co-workers,” he said. “They take their mask off in the office. They take their mask off in a breakroom setting, and then the transmission occurs peer-to-peer, sideways, inside any organization.”
Sweat says some people who have been exposed to the virus are also violating health department orders to quarantine for a mandatory 14 days. Schools and workplaces are reporting to the health department that children and employees are trying to return before that period is over, which could result in a misdemeanor charge.
As of Monday, about 8,000 people were under quarantine orders in the county.