Brittain extends Hamblen County mask mandate

Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain extended the mask mandate Monday for Hamblen County until the end of the year.

Brittain said the current mandate, which makes masks necessary in public places, will last until Dec. 30.

“I didn’t see any reason the mask mandate should not be required at this time,” he said.

The Morristown-Hamblen Public Library also announced on Monday that it will close indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It said that curbside service will also be suspended.

The mask mandate and closure comes as the number of active cases has fluctuated dramatically in the last two weeks.

The county currently has 377 active cases and 61 deaths. Just two weeks ago, the number of active cases were more than 470 even as the month started with active cases around 230.

The county’s seven-day positivity rate is around 17 percent and has been labeled a “Red Zone” county by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Any county above a 10 percent positivity rate is put in the red zone.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has emphasized that tools for fighting the novel coronavirus include wearing a face mask, washing hands frequently and social distancing up to six feet away from other people.

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, also said Monday that the school system was still tallying numbers on how many students were physically in school.

“I would think about 15% is what we have in class,” he said.

The school system announced weeks ago that it would allow students to voluntarily opt out attending school the week after Thanksgiving. It encouraged middle and high school students to take online virtual classes and for elementary school students to take home paper assignments.

He said he believed the strategy has worked. He said at this time there were a number of staff in quarantine due to testing positive, having had contact with someone who tested positive or having a family member who tested positive.

“If we did not have this entire week, it would have been difficult to staff classrooms,” he said.

Instead, the school system will have some time for those infected to get well and to help make sure the virus does not continue to spread.

“What this has helped is to create that barrier and breathing room in between the holidays,” he said.

He did emphasize the Hamblen County Board of Education, as well as his office, will continue to keep schools open as long as it is safe.

Brittain’s order also included a list of exemptions.

“I just wanted to remind everyone,” he said.

Those included:

• Do not have to wear in a home or car

• Children 12 and under don’t have to wear a mask

• Not required for anyone with breathing trouble

• Do not have to wear for those who require assistance to remove or put on

• Not required while eating and drinking

• If you can maintain a six-foot distance while outdoors it is not required

• Do not have to wear while working if there is social distancing

• Not required if a mask poses a safety or security risk

• Do not have to wear while attending a House of Worship, but it is strongly encouraged