On the heels of Ballad Health halting admissions and elective surgeries at Hawkins County Memorial Hospital, County Mayor Jim Lee will mandate all Hawkins County residents to wear masks in public beginning 11:59 p.m., Friday.

“I certainly don’t take my decision lightly and I know it’s controversial,” Lee said in a release Thursday afternoon. “Ballad Health has put us East Tennessee Mayors in a very complicated and controversial situation.

“Ballad Health is pausing medical admissions and surgical procedures at both Hawkins County Memorial Hospital and Hancock County Hospital, Ballad Health has decided to stop all hospitalizations at our local hospitals.  We had a wonderful hospital in Hawkins County with a great staff and best care you could get,” he said 

Lee continued to discuss the loss of the Level I trauma center at Holston Valley Medical Center.

“We have lost a level 1 trauma center within an hour of the majority of the county We have lost a helicopter in our fleet of available aircraft, and now we have lost the ability for patients to be hospitalized locally in Hawkins and Hancock County,” Lee said. “The reason Ballad Health has trouble with staffing is they cannot retain staff.  All this means is more work for our EMS, which is already struggling to survive.”

Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to place mask mandates in the hands of county mayors has placed mayors in a complicated situation, Jim Lee said.

“The Governor’s order places mayors in a complicated position.  This decision wasn't easy for me to make.  Everybody’s frustrated and tired with COVID-19 and wants to have the economy open. The best way to have our economy open and the best way for us to do normal activities is for everyone to wear a mask.  The Governor’s order does allow for enforcement but our local law enforcement does not have the resources to enforce this order. I will not be asking our law enforcement to be burdened with chasing around citizens who don’t have a face mask. We expect that our local citizens will do what most have already been doing for the last few months.  Wearing a mask in public will help our economy by keeping businesses open,” Jim Lee added.