TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — As health experts plea with the community to help curb increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, one concern they are now raising is if county-wide mask mandates should be reinstated.
Under Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 executive order, county mayors have the authority to issue mask mandates.
All counties in Northeast Tennessee have let their mandates expire, except Sullivan County.
Mayor Richard Venable issued an extension through April 30th.
Ballad Health leaders call the trend they are seeing right now “dangerous.” They say local cases of COVID-19 have nearly doubled in the last month and their hospitalization rates are on the rise again.
They say mask mandates could help in stopping the spread and another surge.
“I think people saw the drop in the number of cases and as a result people have dropped their guard. I know just when I am out and about I see fewer people wearing masks than they were before,” said Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton.
Deaton added the health system is in contact with local mayors regularly. In a media briefing Wednesday he said he would encourage them to bring back, or in Sullivan County’s case, extend county mask mandates.
“We believe that the mask mandates work, we think it’s important for our region at this point. We would still encourage that to happen. As unpopular of a decision as that is, we do think that it works and that they are effective so we would ask that they continue with that,” said Deaton.
The Northeast Regional Health Office would be in support of reinstating local mask mandates.
Their office said in a statement today, “Masks are an important part of the fight against COVID-19 and we strongly urge everyone to wear a mask in public at all times to help protect the community and prevent further spread of COVID-19. We also encourage anyone 16 and older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, counties with mask mandates saw a subsequent decrease in COVID cases, where they continued to rise in counties without them.