Knox Co. mandatory mask order begins Friday

The Knox Co. Board of Health passed a motion Wednesday to make wearing a face mask in public indoor spaces mandatory starting Friday, July 3.
Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 6:37 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 5:15 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -The Knox County Board of Health passed a motion Wednesday to make wearing a face mask in public mandatory starting Friday, July 3.

Health officials voted at a task force meeting Wednesday, July 1 to “protect the general health and safety of the citizens in Knox County”.

The requirement will be known as the “COVID-19 Face Covering Regulation,” and will go into effect 12:01 a.m. Friday, July 3 until further notice. The board will meet every two weeks to reevaluate the order and benchmarks.

“We want it to be in place as little time as possible, but probably at least a month for us to really see any impact at all,” Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said.

Masks must be worn inside public spaces except when eating or drinking. The order covers stores, malls, libraries, museums, clubs and other places where people gather. Masks will not be required in outdoor spaces.

If you’re inside county lines, the rule applies. That means the city of Knoxville, Farragut, and places like Karns and Powell.

Health officials define ‘face covering’ as a device, mask or material covering the nose and mouth of a person to impede the spread of saliva and other fluids during speaking, coughing, sneezing or other intentional or involuntary action.

“I just don’t want to see our community become like Nashville, Memphis, or even Chattanooga,” Board Member Dr. Patrick O’Brien said. “I want to do something proactively that the science tells me works and it’s something simple it’s putting this on my face.”

Knox County Public Schools will be excluded from the order. They can only follow orders by the State Department of Education. The order does apply to all private schools in the county.

The Board of Health passed the order with seven “yes” votes and only one “no” vote from Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who is a member of the board.

“It could cause some situations especially when you’re asking potentially to pull police off of fighting violent crime,” Jacobs said. “Nationally we are seeing such tension between the public and in many governmental authorities so that is a concern”

The Knox County Law Department said the Board of Health is responsible for health policy and enforcement in the county. The department also advised the board against adopting the order.

“It’s too vague, it’s unconstitutional because nobody knows what’s prohibited that’s the problem,” county attorney Myers Morton said.

Violating the order will be classified as a misdemeanor, punishable by a citation or 30 days in jail.

“If there’s not some sort of ability to enforce this it has no teeth,” board member Dr. Marcy Souza said. “If we want to keep our people safe, this is what we have to do that’s what the science says.”

However, the Board of Health said it’s goal isn’t a penalty.

“This really is about educating people, and enabling people to become compliant,” Buchanan said.

She hopes this will help business owners keep them open while protecting their employees and customers.

“It’s a lot easier to say hey, the Board of Health is making me make you wear a mask, then for the business owner to take that on,” Buchanan said. “I think it is hard to ask somebody to wear a mask it feels uncomfortable to be able to say they put a rule in place you have to follow it.

A statement regarding the order on the Knox County Health Department’s website reads, “On July 1, the Knox County Board of Health voted to issue an order requiring community members to wear face coverings in most public spaces. The order is slated to go into effect July 3 and will be assessed at each Board of Health meeting moving forward. Children under 12 years of age and those with certain medical conditions are exempt. Places of worship, public schools as well as state and federal government facilities are excluded. The intent of the order is to increase face-covering usage and slow the spread of COVID-19. The Board discussed enforcement at the meeting and agreed the intent is to issue warnings and, if possible, provide a face mask to those who do not have one. The full text of the order will be made available on this webpage as soon as it is finalized.”

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