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State lawmaker - grieving COVID death of staffer - urging TN legislature to not strip power from Shelby County Health Department

Rep. London Lamar is concerned a special session will undo mask mandates for schools. Local Republican House member Rep. Mark White defended potential changes.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — "To be so close to him and know that he died of COVID just yesterday, I am just sick," Rep. London Lamar of Memphis said Thursday morning.

Wednesday, grief quickly turned to anger as the state representative and Democrat mourned the COVID-19 related death of her staff photographer.

"I'm just over the political games they are playing. I'm over the irresponsibility they are playing," Rep. Lamar added.

Lamar's tweet on the topic Wednesday went viral, with more than 31,000 likes as of Thursday afternoon. It criticized Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton's request to Gov. Bill Lee for a special session, to possibly rein in the power allowed in the state's six urban health departments - including Shelby County.

"I'm just concerned that children are going to die," Rep. Lamar said.

If the special session happens, the state's Republican super majority could strike down the Shelby County Health Director's mask mandate - in effect since Monday - for all K-12 schools, preschools, and daycares.

"I'm asking my colleagues, I'm asking my Governor Bill Lee, to think responsibly. If you are pro-life, think about children's lives," Rep. Lamar said.

"My position is the ultimate decision should be made by the parent who has raised that child and knows the background and health of that child," Rep. Mark White - a Republican and fellow state lawmaker - said.

Rep. White said the potential special session could still allow local school boards to mandate masks.

"89 counties fall under the state directive right now, so maybe we should make it uniform across the state so we don't have this diversity of opinions," Rep. White said.

Thursday, Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor stood by the current mask mandate - and her local authority.

 "Local trends are telling us that we have a serious problem," Dr. Taylor said. "The Shelby County Health Department is well within the law to protect children."

As it stands now, the current Shelby County Health Directive mandating masks at all public and private schools, preschools, and daycares runs through the end of the month.