Though Hancock County was the last county in the entire state to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, there had been 10 confirmed cases as of July 9. As a result, county mayor Thomas Harrison is requiring that, for the next 30 days, citizens wear masks when out in public.
“We have had an increase in the COVID-19 outbreak here, and the few that tested positive may or may not have been in and around some of the public,” he said. “We’re just trying to be careful and keep it from spreading further.”
Harrison told the Review/Eagle that, after the 30 days is up, he will reevaluate the situation and decide how to proceed from there.
“We will see at that time if we have had any increase in COVID-19 cases,” he said. “At that time, maybe we can go back to just leaving it up to people’s choice.”
This came after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an Executive Order on July 3 granting mayors in 89 counties the authority to issue local mask requirements.
Harrison is requiring that citizens wear a mask inside all businesses, public buildings and restaurants within the county.
“If you come inside a public building, the courthouse or any place of business, that business has the right to ask you to put on a mask or not serve you,” he said.
Masks are not required when outside in the open air.
As far as enforcing the mask requirement, Harrison told the Review, “We are servants of the people and elected by the people. Really, all we can do is ask. There will be no civil or monetary penalties (if you don’t wear one). You won’t be arrested or given a ticket. Hopefully, good common sense and love for your fellow man will help you make that decision. We’re just looking out for our public and families.”
He went on to add that about 75-80% of the community response to his requirement has been positive.
“But, the loudest voice is always the negative,” he added. “I hate that, but our job is to look out for the greater good of all people. We are all created equal, and we all have our own opinions. Thankfully, God made us that way. Otherwise it would be a very dull world. But, everybody’s got a different opinion, and they like to express them. Thankfully, we live in a country where that’s okay to do.”
On Monday, Hawkins Co. Mayor Jim Lee told the Review/Eagle that, at this point, he isn’t planning to mandate masks.
“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.”
“We’re just looking out for our folks,” Harrison said of his decision. “Sometimes the most important decisions are the hard ones. I’m not trying to wield the power over our folks or anything like that—we’re just trying to look out for our people the best that we can and ensure that we keep everybody safe.”
He went on to add, “When you leave it up to people they either will or they won’t wear one. Folks that might normally wear one on their own, when you say ‘mandatory,’ automatically you’ll get some kickback sometimes. I’m not trying to press anyone—I’m just trying to look out for the greater good. By that decision, hopefully we can save some lives or prevent someone from even being sick. If we can do that—if it’s even just one life—then it’s worth it to me.”