(AP Photo/LM Otero)

The message from Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain is clear: Put on a mask.

Brittain will issue an executive order requiring all residents of and visitors to Hamblen County to wear a cloth facial covering or mask in an effort to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

The order will be effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, August 4 and will be in effect through August 29.

Brittain said the mask mandate is the next logical step to impact the spread of the virus.

“Our coronavirus task force has been preaching and teaching the use of a mask for several weeks, and we believe it works,” the mayor said. “More people are wearing them and we want to intensify the message with the order.”

Brittain’s order declares that residents and visitors of Hamblen County should wear their mask in public spaces of businesses, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

The order comes with no provision for enforcement. No one will be arrested or ticketed for violating the order. Brittain said his office received an advisory from the Department of Health saying that violating an order is a Class A misdemeanor. However, that same order urged caution and discretion from law enforcement.

Ultimately, Brittain said the science is clear and unmistakable, in places where the majority of people where masks, spread is reduced.

Brittain said he hopes his mandate will help allow the Hamblen County school system, which pushed back the opening of schools from July 31 to September 8, to open schools for the 2020-2021 year.

“We need to do everything we can to try and open our public schools in September while keeping students, teachers and staff safe,” Brittain said. “Second, we need to help our senior adults with health conditions feel confident they can go out in public and feel safe because everyone is protecting each other by wearing their masks. Finally, we need to support out healthcare workers who are physically and emotionally exhausted from their efforts to treat the patients who have the virus.”

Last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delegated the authority to require masks to county mayors in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. The six largest counties, which have their own independent health departments, already had that authority.

At that time, Brittain declined to issue a mandate, saying he preferred to encourage residents to do the right thing. Now, he said, he wants to intensify that message.

In his order, Brittain notes that cases of COVID-19 in Hamblen County have risen significantly in the last six weeks, reaching all areas of the community without regard for age, gender or ethnic group.

Brittain said the Hamblen County Coronavirus Task Force will continue its work monitoring the healthcare systems, the testing and the prevention campaign that are ongoing within the county. He asked all citizens to do their part by following Center for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing by washing their hands frequently, by staying home when they are sick and by wearing masks.

Brittain’s move comes a week after White House COVID-19 task force leader Deborah Birx met with state leaders in Nashville and urged Lee to do more.

“We’ve done a lot of modeling and we have found that if you all wear a mask — all Tennesseans — in every public area and you stop going to bars, and in fact close the bars, and limit your indoor dining, that we can have as big of an impact on decreasing new cases as we had with sheltering in place,” Birx told reporters.

A group of Tennessee doctors also urged Lee to act.

“We need a mask mandate immediately and we need to delay the start of in-person classes to allow the mandate to work,” pulmonary and critical care physician Dr. Aaron Milstone said.

Brittain’s order comes with a number of exceptions recommended by the CDC and included in Lee’s executive order.

Those exceptions are:

  • Within one’s residence or automobile, unless transporting others for hire
  • By a child 12 years of age or younger
  • By individuals who have trouble breathing due to an underlying health condition or another bona fide medical or health-related reason
  • By individuals who are incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth facial covering without assistance;
  • While eating or drinking
  • While outdoors, unless the person cannot substantially maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside of the person’s family members
  • In situations in which wearing a face covering poses a safety or security risk
  • While in a house of worship unless required by that house of worship, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged
  • While in a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged