Hawkins Co. Mayor suggests wearing a mask but isn’t going to require it

A man wears a mask while attending the first Cruise-In of the 2020 season

Though Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an Executive Order on July 3 granting mayors in 89 counties the authority to issue local mask requirements, Hawkins Co. Mayor Jim Lee told the Review that, at this point, he isn’t planning to mandate it.

“While our densely populated urban areas continue to have the highest COVID-19 case rates, our local governments expressed a need for greater flexibility in addressing a rise in cases and that includes setting stronger expectations around masks,” said Gov. Lee in a Friday press release. “This targeted approach ensures we protect both lives and livelihoods and safely keep our economy open in Tennessee. We encourage every Tennessean across the state to use a face covering or mask, make sure to socially distance and wash hands frequently.”

Mayor Lee told the Review that he is in constant contact with both TDH (Tennessee Department of Health) and TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Agency) and had plans both Monday and Tuesday of this week to speak with other county and health officials on the topic.

“I want to make the best decision for the community,” he said. “At this point, I’m not going to mandate masks. I am asking everyone in Hawkins County to use sound judgement, restraint, and discretion. Let’s not go backward. I do believe we should wear a mask and maintain social distancing, but I’m not comfortable with our government mandating it.”

He went on to add that he fears a mask mandate could lead to a stigmatization of “citizens who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition.”

“The World Health Organization has changed its stance on wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayor Lee said. “People over 60 and people with underlying medical conditions should wear a medical-grade mask when they’re in public and cannot socially distance. I worry that citizens who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition will be stigmatized. There are potential privacy concerns as people who cannot comply due to a medical condition could be compelled to disclose personal medical information, which is a violation of federal law.”

Both Mayor Lee and Governor Lee agreed that wearing a mask in public can help prevent another lockdown.

“Importantly, wearing a cloth face covering is a simple step that each Tennessean can take to slow the spread of the virus, which prevents having to take more drastic and disruptive measures for our economy and job market, like requiring the closure of businesses,” reads the Governor’s order.

“Nobody wants to go back to lockdown mode,” Mayor Lee said. “Wearing a mask in public will help our economy by keeping businesses open.”

Governor Lee also outlined certain restrictions within his order. Should a county mayor require citizens to wear masks, this rule must allow for the following exemptions:

  • Within one’s residence or automobile, unless transporting others for hire;
  • By a child twelve (12) years of age or younger;
  • By someone who has trouble breathing due to an underlying health condition or another bona fide medical or health-related reason for not wearing a face covering;
  • By someone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance;
  • While eating or drinking;
  • While outdoors, unless the person cannot substantially maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside of the person’s household;
  • While working under conditions where appropriate social distancing from others outside of the person’s household is substantially maintained;
  • In situations in which wearing a face covering poses a safety or security risk;
  • While in a house of worship unless required by that house of worship, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged; or
  • While in a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged.

Sunday, July 5 marked the tenth straight day of 1,000-plus daily COVID-19 case counts in Tennessee. More information and daily case counts can be found at https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.