MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When it comes to fight against COVID-19, it appears the battle lines are being drawn over the authority of Shelby County Health Department versus new laws just passed by the Tennessee General Assembly.
Some Memphis and Shelby County health experts and political leaders say the new rules could weaken the power of the local health department, and some also question whether thousands of unvaccinated workers could now face fines.
Dr. Michelle Taylor, the director of the Shelby County Health Department, issued a dire warning to Shelby County Commissioners.
“If the governor signs this law that was passed by the legislature last week, every decision that we make in a pandemic will have to go through Nashville,” Dr. Taylor said. “I will tell you that the decision that was made in Nashville last week is extremely harmful to public health. Not only here in Shelby County, but across the state.”
The White House wants federal employees and contractors to be required to be fully vaccinated and for OSHA to create rules for private businesses with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
Mayor Lee Harris says they might be one of those organizations.
“We do appear to be an organization with 100 or more employees such that we might fall under the Biden regulations about vaccinations,” he said.
Commissioners wanted answers about the thousands of unvaccinated people in Shelby County and whether they now face fines by the state or feds.
“I just need to know is there a penalty in this new law that says we’re going to fined for unvaccinated people?” Commissioner Eddie Jones asked Taylor.
The health department director replied, “I am not aware of that, but I will get the answer and bring it back to you.”
Still, there many more questions than answers about vaccine mandates and who can enforce them.
Some Shelby County leaders also say Tennessee lawmakers have all but banned mask mandates in public schools.