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Board of Health: Knox County mask mandate could be lifted before 2021

Dr. Gotcher said following the five core actions will help slow the spread and by extension, lead to the lifting of mandates.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Every week, the Knox County Board of Health meets to decide which measures are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For more than a month, masks have been required in most indoor public spaces. For the last few weeks, all bars have been under a curfew and have had to close at 10 p.m.

But as Knox County's curve begins to flatten, some people have wondered how long those policies will stay in place. Dr. Jack Gotcher, chair of the Knox County Board of Health, said it depends on how the situation unfolds.

"In some communities, if the positivity rate falls below 5 percent, they may relax some measures," he said. "It's not a very precise way to do things ... so the five benchmarks that we look at are going to be more accurate."

As of August 18, the Knox County had three yellow benchmarks and two green benchmarks — the first time in weeks without a single red one.

Dr. Gotcher said the board of health did not feel ready to lift any existing measures Wednesday night. However, Dr. Gotcher said it could be possible for the mask mandate to be lifted before 2021.

RELATED: KCHD says public health measures still critical for continued positive trends in benchmarks

On Tuesday the University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor, Donde Plowman, said a cluster of COVID-19 cases were linked to an off-campus house party. Still, Dr. Gotcher said putting limits on gatherings in Knox County likely wouldn't pass a vote with the board of health.

"The [gathering] mandate has been very controversial because it involves the potential for what you might do on private property and how many people you could put in an area," Dr. Gotcher said. "The whole idea behind crowd gatherings and those mandates are really multi-factorial."

He said a large group of people could gather safely if they practiced social distancing, wore masks and stayed outside. But if you put that same group of people in a smaller, enclosed area with no masks or social distancing, it would become much riskier.

"Sometimes in an attempt to come up with a simple solution, it paints things with too broad a brush," he said. "It might not work in the real world."

He also cautioned that people need to continue taking COVID-19 seriously, despite a decline in Tennessee's active cases.

"Everyone would like to see the trends continue to go down because that's the pathway toward normalcy," he said. "We'd like this to end as soon as we could ... but if everybody maintains the five core actions and stays as vigilant as possible, it will not only slow the spread but will lead to us lifting some of the mandates."