Northeast Regional Medical Director on ending mask mandates ‘Any relaxing of measures could also open the door for a surge in influenza cases’

Local Coronavirus Coverage

(WJHL)- Northeast Tennessee Regional Medical Director, Dr. David Kirschke, said ending mask mandates could result in a surge of flu cases in our region.

We requested a statement from Dr. Kirschke Friday in response to the announcement that three counties would be ending their mask mandates.

You can read Dr. Kirschke’s full statement below.

“Tennessee, which could result in another surge in cases.  Although we have made good progress in vaccinating our population, we are unlikely to achieve herd immunity until a much higher percentage of our residents have had an opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  Any relaxing of measures could also open the door for a surge in influenza cases.  In the absence of a statewide mask mandate, local mask mandates encourage businesses and the public to do the safe thing and protect those most vulnerable in or communities.”

David Kirschke, MD (Northeast Regional Health Office)

When we interviewed Washington County, Tennessee Mayor Joe Grandy Friday afternoon about the ending of the mask mandate, he said he trusted the people in Northeast Tennessee to continue doing the right thing.

“There’s no difference because the mandate in itself was not enforceable… and our sheriffs and our police we’re never asked to enforce people walking around with no masks or in businesses with no masks,” Grandy said.

While officials at Ballad Health said they did not have an immediate statement available, we found some of Ballad’s top health officials were already speaking out against ending the mask mandate on social media.

Lisa Carter, the Chief Executive Officer at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, retweeted News Channel 11’s post about the ending of the mask mandate and wrote in part, “I’m just nauseous. Your healthcare workers are still in the process of catching their breath.”

Ballad Health’s Chief Infection Prevention Officer, Jamie Swift, said on social media Friday that she was pleading with people to continue to wear masks.

Some people in Washington Co. are concerned lifting the mask mandate sends the wrong message.

“I feel like it’s the wrong thing. I believe that it will cause people to get COVID. It will start up all over again,” said Shelia McKinney who lives in Johnson City. “It’s the wording. ‘Mandate’ has a little more force to it and people are more likely to wear the masks if they’re mandated.”

The owner of crystal raven in Jonesborough says enforcing the mandate on their own was already a challenge.

“I don’t think it’s the right time. A lot of events are just now starting back up. A lot of people are just now feeling safe to come back out and start hitting small towns, traveling a little bit,” said Jermone Bowers. “We’ve already been dealing with that battle already throughout the whole mask mandate. I feel like that’s going to increase now. As a store owner, I will still continue to require masks to enter the store. We require masks and hand sanitizer to entire the store. It’s a small thing to ask for to help keep everybody safe.”

But Grandy says not much will change after midnight on Friday.

“Anyone who owns a business that wants to require people who come in to do business to wear a mask, they have the ability to do that,” he said.” “Changing the mask requirement to a mask request is merely a vote of confidence in the citizens of Washington county.”

Grandy also says Washington Co. is a “leader in the state in the percentage of the population vaccinated with over 36,000 people in Washington county vaccinated to date.” And that appointments for those 65 and older will open on Monday, allowing opportunity for about 7,000 more people in the county to be vaccinated.

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