‘Love your neighbor… wear a mask’: Sullivan Co. leaders urge mask-wearing as COVID-19 cases rise

Local Coronavirus Coverage

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Leaders in Sullivan County are urging people to voluntarily comply with safety measures as COVID-19 case numbers rise in Northeast Tennessee. The message comes as states and cities, including Nashville, are implementing mandatory public mask-wearing.

“Love your neighbor, protect your neighbor, wear a mask,” said Dr. Stephen May with the Sullivan County Health Department.

Dr. May said people should consider wearing a mask as an act of compassion. There are currently 13 active confirmed cases in Sullivan County. Dr. May confirmed a few of those cases are tied to travel, while others are from community spread.

“You know when we started with this, we had such warm hearts and were so conscientious of taking care of each other,” he said.

But he fears that care is slipping as masks go unworn, social distance isn’t kept, and cases increase in Sullivan County. When it comes to the possibility of a mandatory public mask-wearing policy for the county, Dr. May said it could be considered.

“Certainly if our numbers continue to climb. We really need to work on voluntary – people being socially responsible, and conscientious of their neighbor,” he said.

Dr. May also responded to internet claims that masks are dangerous for oxygen intake.

“For the general part of a healthy population, it does not affect your oxygen levels,” he said.

Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said Monday he doesn’t believe a public mask mandate will happen.

“I don’t see mandatory mask-wearing. I don’t see us doing that. I think there’s just too many situations. And then you have to have mask police,” he said.

But Venable echoed the need for voluntary compliance with mask wearing and social distancing.

“I think there’s a tendency to say ‘Okay, maybe we’re out of the woods.’ We’re not. It’s still there. It’s still as dangerous or more dangerous to our local people than it ever has been,” Venable said.

These health warnings come a couple weeks out from NASCAR’s All-Star Race being held at Bristol Motor Speedway. With up to 30,000 fans allowed to attend, Venable said he has daily calls with the governor’s staff.

SEE ALSO: Bristol Motor Speedway, health officials, ask NASCAR fans to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines

He said state health officials will monitor Sullivan County closely, and the Bristol race will be a measure to see if other major sporting events can happen this fall.

“So this may well be a laboratory for us to look at on how we go forward with University of Tennessee football, ETSU football,” he said.

Venable said it will be major moment for Bristol and Sullivan County.

“This is the largest sporting event in the nation. All the nation’s eyes are going to be on us and see how we do this,” he said. “We have our fears. Dr. May and Gary Mayes, our director [of the health department], they have some reservations about this. But also they’re dedicated to this community and what’s good for the people here. We’ve got to have a path back to where we’re able to operate our economy. This may be the first important step for what’s going to happen in the fall, for the country. So we’ve got to do this well.”

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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