Expressing concern that Nashville’s COVID-19 case count has been rising in recent weeks, the Metro Board of Health passed a policy at an emergency meeting on Friday requiring that people in Davidson County wear masks in public.
The board voted to direct the Metro Legal Department to work with the Health Department officials to develop the policy. Board chairman Dr. Alex Jahangir, who co-chairs the city’s pandemic response task force, said the move is meant to save lives, citing various medical studies demonstrating the effectiveness of mandatory mask policies.
Health Department Director Dr. Michael Caldwell had expressed concern about a mandatory policy earlier this week, but said the rising case counts had motivated him to support the new policy.
The mandatory mask policy passed unanimously.
“This is not political. This saves lives,” Jahangir said.
Details of the policy will be developed in the next 48 hours, according to the policy passed by the board. However, Caldwell said he prefers a policy that requires masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not feasible.
“The goal is to change behaviors,” board member Tene Franklin said, expressing concern that the mandate is not disproportionately enforced in the homeless population and among racial minorities.
Jahangir said a mandatory mask policy has the backing of the city’s healthcare companies, Mayor John Cooper and Metro Council leaders. Jahangir said he wanted the policy finalized by Caldwell and his staff by Sundy at 5 p.m.
Board member Dr. Thomas Campbell said he supports the mandate for both public health and economic reasons. Campbell said he was worried that the city could backslide in its reopening plan and that the mask mandate could help.
According to a study published this week in the journal Health Affairs, face mask requirements in Washington D.C. and 15 states reduced the number of COVID-19 cases by 2 percent. Nashville’s positive test rate is 10.2 percent as of Friday.
Memphis passed a mask mandate earlier this month and conservative Wilson County sought to require masks before being told by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration it did not have the power to do so.
Earlier today, the Davidson County legislative delegation sent an open letter urging the state and local leaders to mandate mask wearing.