Northeast Tennessee County mayors extend mask mandates as COVID-19 case numbers worsen

Local Coronavirus Coverage

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Four Northeast Tennessee counties extended their soon-to-be-expired mask mandates on Monday. But whether mandates are in place or not, local health officials say face coverings will be recommended as long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

Mayors for Washington, Carter, and Johnson counties extended mandates until August 29th.

The mayor of Unicoi County extended their mandate to August 17th.

Under executive order by Governor Bill Lee, local governments have the authority to issue mask mandates until August 29th. Northeast Tennessee Counties first implemented mandates in July as case numbers sharply increased. On Monday, the 14-day average was 125 new cases per day across Northeast Tennessee.

More COVID-19 data for Northeast Tennessee can be found here.

Washington County mayor Joe Grandy signed his mandate extension Monday afternoon. Due to a delay in test results, Grandy believes the region is just now beginning to see the impact of mask mandates in case numbers.

“So we extended it another three weeks, three and a half weeks. Hopefully we’ll see a change in the increases in cases in our community,” he said.

Grandy said he’s been pleased with how residents complied with the initial mandate.

“I don’t think anybody loves wearing one of these face coverings. But it’s a small price to pay, if it helps make us a healthier community,” he said.

Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett also issued a mask mandate extension Monday. He pointed to travel and large gatherings as reasons for case increases.

“Once we get the numbers leveled out, then I feel like we can ease up on the mask mandate. But as long as the numbers are escalating daily – the CDC, they’re highly recommending you still use them,” said Barnett.

Most of the same rules and exemptions from the counties’ initial mandates will carry over to the extensions. However, in Carter County, Barnett said his new extension allows local education agencies, schools, and institutions of higher learning to set their own mask requirements – but strongly encourages their implementation.

Like Washington and Carter counties, Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor also issued an extension Monday until August 29th. The executive order in part cited the “public health emergency” caused by COVID-19.

Unicoi County Mayor Bubba Evely chose to extend his county’s mandate until August 17th.

“The Governor’s executive order gives us I think, a little more time than that. But we want to look at it on a two-week level,” said Evely.

Dr. David Kirschke, Northeast Regional Medical Director, believes the mask mandates could have helped case rates from being worse. Mandated or not, he said the public should expect face coverings to be recommended for the foreseeable future.

“From a public health standpoint, we would recommend to continue to wear masks, basically until we have either coronavirus under control, or there’s a vaccine that’s widely available,” said Dr. Kirschke.

The county mask mandates still do not apply to people who have trouble breathing or have other medical conditions that prevent them from wearing one safely.

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