Note: This story was last updated at 11:35 a.m.
Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank will not require face masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Friday that he was giving county mayors in 89 of the state’s 95 counties the authority to recommend or require face coverings in their counties.
On Tuesday, Frank said she would not exercise the authority to require face coverings.
“The people of Anderson County have been doing a wonderful job following the governor’s guidance, and I often express how proud I am of the job they’ve been doing throughout this COVID-19 pandemic,” Frank said. “I trust and respect the people of Anderson County, and I believe it is through encouraging healthy behaviors, promoting prevention, and praising each other that we achieve the greatest health outcomes.”
Frank’s announcement comes as the number of COVID-19 cases has surged in Anderson County. The county added 39 new cases between Thursday and Monday, pushing the total up to 144, and the number of active cases about doubled from 32 on Thursday to 63 on Monday.
Frank said she is “greatly distressed” by the division caused by the idea of policing friends, family, and neighbors, presumably referring to the question of whether to mandate face coverings.
“Policy—in whatever community crisis—that pits neighbor against neighbor is not good policy,” Frank said. “COVID-19 should not be a law enforcement issue, but like other public health issues is best served by continuing to create a community of prevention, healthy behavior, and constant analysis of our health systems to ensure people are able to get the medical care they need.”
Face masks are required in Knox County, which is adjacent to Anderson County, in some indoor public places. That order went into effect Friday, July 3. Knox County has one of six locally run health departments in Tennessee that has the authority to issue their own mandate regarding face coverings. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs cast the only vote against the order, and Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler questioned its constitutionality.
In another county adjacent to Anderson County, Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said he also will not require masks under the governor’s order on Friday.
“I feel wearing a mask in public is a decision and choice to be made by the individual and the owners and managers of the many businesses in Loudon County,” Bradshaw said in a letter posted on Twitter. “If a person chooses to wear or to not wear a mask, then that is up to them to decide for themselves. If a business chooses to or to not require masks, then that is their decision. A resident or visitor can then make their decision if they wish to do business at the establishment. The government has no right to infringe upon the decision if they wish to do business at the establishment. The government has no right to infringe upon this decision, and I will not participate in a mandate that I feel overreaches my authority as Loudon County mayor and is impossible to enforce.”
Bradshaw, who has also been a law enforcement officer, said he thinks liberties and freedoms do not “disappear in broad strokes but are chiseled away in small pieces.”
The question of whether to wear a mask has become political. Opponents argue, among other things, that government mandates that require face coverings infringe on their personal rights. But supporters cite advice from doctors, epidemiologists, and public health officials that wearing masks could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 from person to person.
President Donald Trump rarely wears a mask in public and many supporters at his rallies and public events have not worn them either, even as public health officials in his administration recommend that people wear face coverings.
Although he won’t require it, Bradshaw encouraged people to wear masks and “social distance.” That’s generally interpreted as a recommendation to maintain a physical distance of six feet or more from people who live outside your home.
In her press release, Frank said the governor can delegate powers that he deems prudent under his emergency management powers.
In this particular case, the governor’s order on Friday, Executive Order 54, notes in Section 2 that this delegation of authority to county mayors and executives is specific only to the issuing of “orders concerning face coverings,” Frank said.
Oak Ridge Today has not received announcements about face masks from county mayors in the other counties adjacent to Anderson County: Campbell, Morgan, Roane, and Scott.
Local governments cannot take actions that are more or less restrictive than the governor’s executive orders for the COVID-19 emergency without an express delegation of power by the governor, the press release said. The governor’s directives in response to an emergency supersede and preempt any action taken by political subdivisions of the state, according to a Tennessee attorney general opinion in April, the press release said.
“I appreciate the trust the governor has in county mayors and executives,” Frank said. “I am thankful for his hard work leading us through this crisis and especially, the work of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Lisa Piercey, and our network of local health departments.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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