Hamblen County Task Force discusses Hispanic outreach efforts

A big portion of the COVID-19 Task Force on Wednesday was devoted to one topic: Masks.

Task force officials talked about how some citizens were asking about enforcement of the mask mandate that Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain put in place in early August.

The mask mandate was put in place with no enforcement requirements and no penalties or fines.

Task Force officials said the enforcement of masks are being handled differently by different organizations.

Dr. Jeff Perry, superintendent of Hamblen County schools, said they have not cracked down too hard at football games because they have been outdoors. But, he said that is subject to change as winter sports start and people go indoors.

“We’re a little bit on top of the enforcement piece when it comes to basketball,” he said. “We’re going to require a mask.”

Tony Cox, city manager for the city of Morristown, said the way they handle enforcement at this point is to encourage businesses to enforce the mandate.

Walters State Community College has a strict policy toward wearing masks, Tony Miksa, president of the college, said.

“The requirement is you wear a mask,” he said. “That’s it.”

Task Force members said the message needs to get out that not wearing a mask is reckless. Perry related an example he heard just a few days ago that if a person is drunk, you still don’t let them drive.

“This is about you going out and hurting someone else,” he said. “That’s one of the messages we need about the mask.”

The mask enforcement discussion comes as COVID-19 cases trended upward a few weeks ago with active cases staying up around more than 200 a day compared to a low of 50 active cases two months ago.

The number of active cases have held steady for almost a week with a bit of a downward trend.

But members of the task force said they still have concerns about another wave coming into Hamblen County during the fall and winter months when the flu season also starts.

Hospital officials also told the task force that the number of COVID patients has been increasing.

There was some good news.

Aundrea Mills, chief nursing officer, relayed a story of a woman who had been in the hospital for more than 80 days. The prognosis wasn’t good, but she made it, Mills said.

“She defied the odds,” Mills said.

The woman left this week and they threw a “heroes parade” for her, Mills said.

Dr. Tom Thompson, Hamblen County medical examiner, said the work medical staff are doing right now is part of the story of the pandemic.

“If you think you’re tired of wearing a mask to Tractor Supply, you should try wearing it in an ICU for three months,” he said.