Study: Mask Ordinance is Working But Younger Crowds Not on Board

Jul 30, 2020


The Shelby County mask ordinance requiring facial coverings in many public spaces went into effect July 3, 2020.
Credit Courtesy of the Shelby County Health Department

Shelby County residents are masking up in greater numbers, at least while shopping in grocery and retail stores, according to a new University of Memphis observational study. But, the findings also show that mask usage is still lagging in some of the city’s busiest social spots.

Researchers observed 4,000 people at 20 high-traffic retail sites such Kroger, Aldi’s, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Prior to the health department’s mask mandate on July 3, only half of shoppers were covering their faces.

Shortly after the ordinance passed, mask usage rose to 92 percent in these same spots.

Dr. Marian Levy, an associate dean at the U of M’s School of Public Health, says it’s encouraging evidence that masking is becoming the social norm.    

“The bottom line is the ordinance works,” she says. “The City [of Memphis] and the county said you have to wear a mask, and it was reinforced by the retail establishments.”  

But, there are some exceptions. The study found younger people wear masks less often.  

So do people in popular social settings. In a separate study of video footage of Beale Street, Overton Square and the Highland Strip, mask usage fluctuated between 22 and 67 percent. 

“The message has to get across to younger people,” Levy says. “And to make sure that when they’re in social settings, they adhere to these principles as well.”

The School of Public Health is also analyzing new self-survey data on mask wearing from 10,000 respondents that they expect to release soon.