Face masks are now required in Roane County to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Roane County Executive Ron Woody announced the mask mandate on Monday morning. It is effective immediately.
“I hope this community will take this order without causing more divisions among our citizens,” Woody said. He hopes no law enforcement will be needed.
The west end of Oak Ridge is in Roane County, although most of the city’s residents live in Anderson County.
Roane County’s cases and deaths have risen during the past month, Woody said. Roane County has reported almost four times as many COVID-19 deaths so far this month, 15, than in the previous high month—four in September. The county has reported more new cases so far this month, 717, than in the previous high month—543 in October.
The Tennessee Department of Health reported on Sunday that the 14-day average of new cases in Roane County was 33.9 new cases per day, up from 28.6 in the previous two-week period. The seven-day average of the positivity rate was 13.1 percent, which is high. The positivity rate measures what percentage of tests are positive out of all the new tests each day.
In his announcement, which was posted on Facebook, Woody said there has been some relief in the past few days, and the COVID-19 positivity rate (presumably the daily rate as opposed to the seven-day average) has dropped below double digits for the first time in a while.
On Sunday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported that Roane County has had a total of 2,177 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began March 21. The 717 new cases reported so far this month is 33 percent of the total. The 15 deaths this month are 65 percent of the total reported since March. Hospitalizations this month, 14, have already passed the July total of 13 and are close to the September total of 15.
In July, before the pandemic became worse, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gave county mayors the authority to require masks in their counties. Neither Woody nor Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank initially invoked that authority, and although masks are required in Roane County now, they are not required in Anderson County. Face coverings are required in Knox County, which has its own authority to mandate masks.
On Monday, Woody said his office is not involved in enforcing the mask mandate in Roane County because that was not granted in Lee’s executive order, and the mandate has some limitations under the executive order, which is currently in effect through December 29.
Last week, Woody said his concern with a mask mandate was that the regional doctor has the authority in times of health crises to call for a lockdown or mask mandate.
“I have an issue when we start asking counties and maybe one day city mayors to have such authority outside of his/hers areas of expertise,” Woody said on Tuesday. “We should allow the medical doctors to make medical decisions.”
It’s not clear what changed between last Tuesday and this Monday, but Roane County has continued to report new deaths and hospitalizations: nine deaths and four hospitalizations. The county has also reported 155 new cases of COVID-19 in those six days.
Woody said the county continues to encourage residents and businesses to practice healthy hygiene, social distance, wear facial coverings, and stay at home when sick or quarantined.
“It appears that some individuals are not taking this virus as seriously as they should even with the quarantined requirements of schools and businesses,” Woody said last week. “We further monitor the regulations or restrictions placed on our court system. When the state supreme court placed restrictions on our courts, the local government followed their lead. Monitoring data in a health crisis is done by the experts, and as a political subdivision of the state of Tennessee, we will follow orders of the higher government.”
Health experts say face coverings are one part of a layered defense that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Other measures include staying at least six feet away from people outside your home, avoiding indoors gatherings when possible, washing hands frequently, and staying home when sick.
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