KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The Knox County Board of Health met on Wednesday night to consider a COVID-19 measure that would limit some gatherings of more than 10 people -- though only under extremely specific circumstances.
The measure passed 7-3 with Dr. Jack Gotcher, Dr. Patrick O'Brien and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs voting in opposition. Those opposed wanted to see this measure passed as a recommendation saying that a regulation would be difficult to enforce.
The measure takes effect on Friday, Dec. 4. It will last for four weeks.
The measure is narrowly tailored to apply to specific circumstances -- primarily too many people drinking alcohol close together -- in an effort to negate any impact it would have on people and businesses already following the current COVID-19 recommendations and measures.
As it's currently written, the restrictions would prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people under these specific circumstances:
- It only applies to people 12 and older who do not live under the same roof
- Only applies to gatherings held in the same 360-square-feet of space, particularly spaces also within 30 feet of a business that serves alcohol for on-site consumption
- On top of all that, it only applies when those people are not 6 feet apart
The restrictions also do not apply to various types of group gatherings, including:
- Inside homes or private dwellings
- Places of worship, weddings or funerals
- Political protests or activities under the First Amendment
- Homeless shelters or encampments
- Nursing or retirement homes
- Places owned by the government
- Public or private schools
- Public transportation waiting areas
- Health care facilities
- Group support meetings
Essentially, this group restriction is targeted to people standing too close together to others they don't live with, primarily at gatherings in or near places that serve alcohol. It could also apply to some other businesses that do not provide room for customers to keep 6 feet of distance apart from each other.
Once in effect, anyone caught violating the restriction could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor at worst, and businesses caught would run the risk of being closed.
However, the actual enforcement of similar regulations with the same penalties to date has largely been health officials and officers giving stern warnings about compliance and informing offenders about the current COVID-19 measures in place.