JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee moved into a new, mask-less era Tuesday as Gov. Bill Lee said the pandemic is “no longer a statewide health emergency.” The Centers for Disease Control also announced new mask guidelines Tuesday for those vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Locals told News Channel 11 Tennesseans are personally responsible for protecting themselves by getting a vaccine, and hope the end of mask mandates will encourage the unvaccinated population to get the shot.
“I think that maybe it’s an incentive to get the vaccine if, you know, that’s what I’m hoping maybe I mean if you’re going to get vaccinated I feel like people probably think, ‘why should I have to wear a mask now,’ or you know, maybe it’ll be incentive for them to want to get vaccinated, you know, but however I still feel like people, especially the immunocompromised people should still probably wear masks, even if they are vaccinate,” Johnson City Resident Kelly Barnett said.
Barnett said the amount of protection against COVID-19 promised by the approved vaccinations should lead to it being safe to not have to wear masks anymore, but as vaccination numbers seem not to be increasing, she thinks people will have to continue to wear masks. She hopes, though, that the end is in sight.
“It seems like there’s a pretty good percentage of protection, once you’re vaccinated if you’re healthy, I feel, it’s going to come we can’t just keep wearing a mask all of our life, but I mean, I think people should still be smart about it if they if they don’t have a very good immune system and they’re getting out in public and a lot of people are not wearing masks I definitely think that they should definitely continue to wear one,” she said.
When it comes to Gov. Lee abolishing mask mandates in Tennessee, businesses will still have the freedom to mandate masks in the private sector.
Johnson City resident Aaron Lively said he hopes businesses will be smart with that power.
“So like, even though the mask mandate is going away, it’s still really encouraging for businesses to have empathy for where people are at so if people are uncomfortable walking into a space like even though vaccines are rolling out at a faster rate, not everyone is vaccinated. And so it’s sort of important to keep in mind, at least for me, when I’m looking for a business to go to and I’m looking for, you know what is the wise way to reopen. You know I think it’s still important to abide by mask mandates wherever possible. I think it’s still important to just imagine kind of like where your customers are coming from and also to keep track of like how the vaccines are rolling out,” he said.
Lively added that some folks are still immuno-compromised, and even though he is vaccinated, he said he will still have to keep that population in mind when out in public. Part of that mindfulness, Lively said, is continuing to mask up.
“As somebody who is vaccinated now I think it’s still important to wear a mask and to show that you’re still willing to protect others. Because again, like, even though we’re all vaccinated and everything, not everyone is, and people are still more immunocompromised and more susceptible to getting infected still. And so I think it’s still important to sort of take a look at what the CDC is saying. And, again, kind of try and come at it from an other-centered perspective and like sort of what is going on with this person and like how can we like create a space as a business that fosters safety while also encouraging people to get together because it is, it is important to get together but also make sure to do it safely,” he added.
The CDC guidelines released Tuesday for outdoor spaces, like the Johnson City Farmer’s Market opening this weekend, state that both vaccinated and unvaccinated folks are still recommended to wear a mask when near crowds of strangers with whom you cannot maintain a social distance.
The Johnson City Farmer’s Market kicking of this weekend is mindful of that.
“We are encouraging all the vendors and customers to wear masks, while they’re at the market. It will not be required. We are still going to practice our social distancing with vendor setting up every other space, and we are going to have our signs posted, asking customers to keep six feet apart,” Jennifer Maupin, marketing director for the Johnson City Farmer’s Market, said.
Not requiring masks, but simply recommending them was a tough decision, Maupin explained.
“It was still something that we didn’t take lightly. And we feel that the majority of our vendors are going to wear a mask, most of them want to comply with that. And we know a lot of our customers will too. And since we are like I said, keeping the social distancing rules and as a outdoor venue, we feel that we’re still keeping everybody safe,” she said. “We ask that, of course, if you have a fever or you’ve been feeling unwell, to please stay home. And just to be considerate of others who would like to keep the six feet social distancing and to keep your hands clean.”
Free masks will not be offered at the farmer’s market this weekend, Maupin said, but hand sanitizer will.
News Channel 11 reached out to multiple school districts – all said they will take the governor’s announcement into consideration in upcoming board of education meetings to discuss masking at schools.