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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Health officials in Tennessee's most populous county are lifting most existing face mask usage requirements enacted as precautions in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Shelby County Health Department order going into effect Saturday is another step in the gradual process of easing restrictions related to masks and social distancing as vaccinations continue and COVID-19 cases drop.

Since March 2020, customers of restaurants, retail shops, grocery stores and other businesses were required to wear masks in the county, which includes Memphis and its suburbs. But health department mask requirements for businesses have been essentially dropped.

Private businesses can still require masks if they desire.

The order announced Wednesday keeps in place requirements for mask usage on transportation including ride-shares, airplanes and buses. Masks can also be mandated in government buildings.

The county's goal is to have 700,000 people vaccinated. As of Wednesday, the county had reached 53% of that threshold, health officials reported.

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