Citing an inability to enforce a mandate, Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said Wednesday he will not order masks be worn in public. However, Brittain encourages everyone to wear masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“As county mayor, I will not issue an order that requires the use of masks or facial coverings in public places,” Brittain said. “But, I strongly encourage that we have a change of heart and attitude about protecting each other from the virus.”

On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee gave an order that allowed county mayors in the 89 counties that have state health department offices to be able to mandate masks if necessary. The larger counties have their own health departments and are in charge of their own local response. 

The state has labeled Hamblen County a hotspot and, on Wednesday, the number of active cases of COVID-19 rose above 200 for the first time.

There have been more than 400 positive tests in Hamblen County as the virus continues to spread and the county sees a large increase of cases.

But, Brittain said, so far, the county has avoided a large amount of "serious" cases.

Brittain said he has heard from dozens of people on whether masks should be mandated. He said the responses have been split fairly evenly between for and against.

He said a mask mandate would be impossible to enforce and used examples of people texting while driving or not wearing a seatbelt.

“Many of us will not follow the order,” he said.

Brittain said one way citizens can influence others to act responsibly is through the pocketbook. He suggested spending money at places that follow Center for Disease Control guidelines.

“Even without a mask mandate, there are ways we can influence others to wear a mask and follow the public health guidelines,” he said. “One of the most impactful can be spending our money with retailers and shops who follow the recommendations because they care about our health.”

He said there are businesses following the governor’s Tennessee Pledge, which gives guidelines on how businesses can operate safely, and there are others that are not.

“I strongly urge you to spend your money with businesses that want to keep you safe,” Brittain said.