BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable has extended the county’s face mask mandate through March 31.

The mandate requires businesses, organizations, or venues open to members of the public to require the use of face coverings or masks by their employees and members of the public. Places of worship are exempt from the requirement.

“During the last couple of months, we have been the leader in the number of positive cases,” said Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable. “We’re the largest, we have three major hospitals here, we have an older population here so I think those factors- we may be identifying more than our major counties.”

This comes after several local counties lifted their mask mandates last week, but requested that people continue to wear them.

“We generally try to do things together in the Northeast area and it’s our efforts to do that. We each have our own individual responsibility and we’ve made an independent decision here,” said Venable. “We try to follow the science, we try to follow CDC guidelines.”

While Venable says he isn’t too concerned about mandates being lifted around the region, the county’s regional medical director, Dr. Stephen May is.

“We do have vaccines going out but not enough and Sullivan county’s a big county and we’ve bored enough of the brunt with this disease. We still need to carry on with these safety measures,” May said. “It’s so important that we hold the course. Complacency is our greatest enemy.”

Sullivan Co. is averaging 40 new cases per day and is staying between a 12-13% positivity rate.

“We’re still dealing with our nursing homes. All of our nursing homes have had the opportunity to get vaccine but we still are seeing cases in our nursing homes and we still are seeing outbreaks particularly associated with sporting events,” said May. “A regional tournament that took place about two weeks ago.”

You can read the mayor’s full order below:

Ballad Health has also encouraged people to continue to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

“It can still be transmitted. There are still people who are vulnerable. We still have people dying from.. this pandemic. We’re still not out of the woods,” said Eric Deaton, Ballad Health’s Chief Operating Officer. “We certainly support that. We think that that’s a good idea… I actually had a chance to talk to Dr. May earlier today. Again, we’re not out of the woods yet…. and I think it’s the prudent thing to do for right now.”