Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee announced in a Wednesday afternoon press release that he will be extending the county-wide mask mandate until midnight on August 29.
“As positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise, most county residents that I have spoken to are requesting an extension on the mask mandate,” Lee said. “With Ballad Health halting admissions and elective surgeries at Hawkins County Memorial Hospital we all have to do our part in preventing the spread of this virus. Wearing a mask in public will help our economy by keeping businesses open.”
Lee initially enacted the mask mandate on July 17 and said at the time that he would revisit the idea within a month.
Since then, COVID-19 cases have only increased throughout the region. On July 17, there had been 124 cases in Hawkins County since the crisis began in March. As of August 12, that number had grown to 500.
As far as enforcing the mask mandate, Lee said in July, “The Governor’s order (to allow county mayors to choose whether or not to mandate masks) does allow for enforcement but our local law enforcement does not have the resources to enforce this order. I will not be asking our law enforcement to be burdened with chasing around citizens who don’t have a face mask. We expect that our local citizens will do what most have already been doing for the last few months. Wearing a mask in public will help our economy by keeping businesses open.”
As with his initial release, Lee listed Ballad Health’s decision to pause overnight admissions at Hawkins Memorial Hospital as a contributing factor to his decision.
“Ballad Health has put East Tennessee Mayors in a very complicated and controversial situation,” he said in his July release. “We had a wonderful hospital in Hawkins County with a great staff and best care you could get. We have lost a level 1 trauma center within an hour of the majority of the county, we have lost a helicopter in our fleet of available aircraft, and now we have lost the ability for patients to be hospitalized locally in Hawkins and Hancock County. The reason Ballad Health has trouble with staffing is they cannot retain staff. All this means is more work for our EMS, which is already struggling to survive.”
Lindy White, who is President of the Northwest Market for Ballad Health, told the Review when Ballad announced its decision that this is part of the “trigger surge plan” that is being implemented due to the recent increase in the number of local COVID-19 cases.
Lee’s decision to extend the mask mandate came just days after Hancock County Mayor Thomas Harrison did the same on August 3.