Your choice not to wear a mask? Not for Shelby County.

Tara Blair Ball
Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Free Press, via Associated Press

As of Monday of this week, parents across the state have the freedom to choose whether or not their children have to wear a mask at school, but Shelby County and the Memphis area have now issued a new countywide mask mandate to begin Friday, August 20th.

Your body, your choice? Not for "bars and restaurants, common areas of hotels, multi-residential buildings, and private clubs."

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order, which prevented school districts from requiring students to wear masks. Many schools had already begun the school year with not having mask requirements for students, teachers, and staff, but many chose to reinstate a mask requirement as Covid cases continued to rise.

Many parents protested the mask requirement. In Tipton County, parents protested outside the Tipton County Board of Education, and the same was true for Williamson County. Many parents held signs that said, "Unmask Our Kids" and "We the People, Not the Sheeple."

One organizer of the Tipton County Board of Education protest said, "We’re not asking for anybody to not wear a mask. We just want the freedom to choose whether our children wear a mask.”

Those parents got their answer with the executive order Gov. Bill Lee signed. A Tennessee student's parent or caregiver can now choose to "opt out of any order or requirement" that the student must "wear a face covering" at school, on buses, or at gatherings or other school functions.

The New York Times reported that, "As of Sunday, Tennessee recorded its highest weekly average of coronavirus cases since late January." The Delta variant continues to fuel a new wave of cases in both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons, and hospitals are struggling keeping up. Waits for an open bed in Shelby County emergency rooms can now be up to 36 to 48 hours long.

Gov. Bill Lee's order directly contradicts current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends "universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."

While the Shelby County mask mandate "does not overrule Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of masking in schools," it's clear that the Shelby County mask mandate will require all Shelby County and Memphis residents to wear masks in all other situations where they might interact with the greater public.

Should Tennessee residents be able to choose whether they or their children should wear masks in public settings? What do you think?

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