Hamblen Task Force discusses outreach to Hispanic community

Hamblen County COVID-19 Task Force members said Monday they fully support Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain’s decision to mandate mask wearing in public spaces of businesses, especially when social distancing is hard to maintain.

“I am in full support of what Mayor Brittain has advocated,” said Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent. “I think it is in need of slowing down the spread in the community.”

The mask mandate comes as active cases continue to jump upwards in the double digits almost everyday for the past several weeks.

As of Sunday, there were 512 active cases in the county and 13 deaths from the virus reported.

The mask mandate takes effect 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and Brittain made the proclamation on Saturday.

Brittain has been encouraging people to wear masks, but he said this weekend he thinks the mask mandate is the next logical step.

Brittain said he felt the need was there to help slow down cases in order to help reopen schools, which the start time had been pushed back until Sept. 8, protect the county’s vulnerable populations and support healthcare workers dealing with the virus at this time.

Gordon Lintz, CAO of Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems, said Monday the number of cases coming into the hospital have been consistent.

He said he supports the mandate fully.

“I’m supportive of the mandate,” he said. “I feel as a community we have to get together to protect the community.”

He said the hospital has been running a marketing campaign to alert people with the simple message that masks don’t protect them, but it does protect others.

Perry said the mayor’s message of stopping the spread to open schools was on point.

“I think he was very correct,” he said. “If we don’t do something to stop it spreading in the community, there’s no way we can stop it from spreading in the schools.”

David Purkey, former state Commissioner of Safety & Homeland Security and county mayor, said it was the next step in the process. He said he fears the hospital may become overwhelmed with patients and he hopes that a mask mandate will show how serious officials are about trying to slow the spread.

“I think some people will wear a mask because of the mayor’s order,” he said. “The more we can do that the better. It was another step in the process.”

Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney also voiced his support. He said he knew it would be coming with the rising numbers.

Those numbers justified the move, he said.

“It was worrisome as it to everybody, I think,” he said, “We have to do what we can to mitigate the spread until a vaccine is available.”

Chris Bell, Hamblen County Emergency Management Agency director, said the mandate is needed.

He said it will be a short-term step and not a permanent one. Bell said he knows all those involved do not want government making mandating against individual rights or freedoms, but at this point, it’s necessary.

“For a short time, just to see if it could help us, I can’t see right now a huge negative impact,” he said.

Perry said if the public did three simple things it would stop the virus in it’s tracks: Wash hands, keep six feet apart and wear a mask.

“If we don’t do something to stop the rapid increase, it’s going to impact on us on everything we do,” he said.