Tri-Cities residents have mixed feelings following Gov. Lee’s end of COVID-19 health orders

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Gov. Bill Lee declared that COVID-19 “is now a managed public health issue in Tennessee” and announced the end of statewide public health orders related to the pandemic.

The governor said he is removing authority from local officials to issue mask mandates.

“It is time for government to get of the business of public health interventions COVID-19 is now a managed public health issue and our state is no longer in a statewide public health crisis,” Gov. Lee said.

Executive Order 80 removes the local mask mandate authority in the 89 counties that the state health department directs.

The governor explained he asked Sullivan and the other five independent counties to remove their mandates and business restrictions by Memorial Day weekend.

The order also retires the Tennessee Pledge business guidelines, which were issued at the start of the pandemic.

People in the Tri-Cities who spoke with News Channel 11 have mixed reaction to Lee’s new executive order.

Some said they believe it is too soon to ease COVID-19 restrictions, while others said Tennesseans should be allowed to govern themselves.

“I think it still needs to be mandated for sure,” Crown Cutz Academy master barber Anthony Cockrell said.

For entrepreneurs like Cockrell, the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra level of stress for not only his colleagues but customers too.

“Some people have still been skeptical of coming into the shop,” Cockrell said. “We never know who is around who. People still go out even though they’re still supposed to be in quarantine.”

“People are going to do what people want to do, but as far as every barber in here, we all have a box of masks. If you would like to wear one you can,” he added. “Ninety-five percent of the time, as soon as you walk through these doors, we’re going to ask you if you have a mask or if you don’t have one, we can offer you one at that time.”

Just a few blocks away from the barbershop, Mid City Grill has been managing with socially distancing its customers and going heavy on takeout orders.

“Our employees are still going to wear masks. We’re going to have masks on just for their safety and for the safety of our guests. Just for our peace of mind,” said David Garnett, who owns the restaurant along with his wife.

Garnett said while the restaurant has followed safety guidelines to a T, many customers still disregard their rules.

“A lot of people wouldn’t have masks, even if you ask them to have a mask. For a while, we did ask them to leave if they didn’t, until a point where we had some aggression with it towards our staff, so we kind of stopped asking it at that point,” Garnett said. “I still don’t think it’s going to cause or make a difference. If someone wants to come in without a mask, they’re going to come in without a mask. That’s what’s been happening here.”

Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said, “I think it’s time that we step out of people’s lives as much as possible, and it’s a matter of personal responsibility now on their behave to make the best decision for themselves.”

Venable runs one of the six independent counties in the state. He says the county’s mask mandate will expire on May 1.

The governor said as Tennesseans continue to get vaccinated, it is time to focus on economic recovery and get back to business in Tennessee.

Part of Executive Order 80 requires local health departments to offer a walk-up vaccine option.

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