Hawkins Mayor Jim Lee announced on Thursday afternoon that he will be enacting a mask mandate for Hawkins County beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 17, 2020.
“I certainly don’t take my decision lightly and I know it is controversial,” Lee said of his decision.
This comes after a recent spike in local COVID-19 cases as well as Ballad Health’s recent decision to temporarily pause overnight admissions and elective procedures at both Hawkins Memorial and Hancock County hospitals.
“Ballad Health has put East Tennessee Mayors in a very complicated and controversial situation,” he said. “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.”
He went on to add that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s decision to allow county mayors to choose whether or not to mandate masks has “put mayors in a complicated position.”
This decision wasn’t easy for me to make. Everybody’s frustrated and tired with COVID-19 and wants to have the economy open. The best way to have our economy open and the best way for us to do normal activities is for everyone to wear a mask.”
As far as enforcing the mask mandate, Lee said, “The Governor’s order 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.”
Hawkins County adds to the growing list of the following counties in and around Northeast Tennessee that have mask mandates in effect: Hancock, Sullivan, Washington and Greene.