KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As the Centers for Disease Control recommends people wear masks indoors across East Tennessee regardless of whether they received a COVID-19 vaccine, local businesses already feel the impact.
It’s not mandated — so no one is breaking the rules by not enforcing masks, but many downtown Knoxville businesses are getting prepared to dust off their “mask required” window signs.
“COVID-19 is still a very serious problem,” said Dr. Bill Smith, who works with American Medical Response. "People are still dying from it.”
After more than a year of wearing masks inside, Governor Bill Lee lifted the mandate in April when only about 23 percent of the state was fully vaccinated.
Now, nearly 40 percent of adults in Tennessee are fully vaccinated but the Delta variant is raising concerns with the CDC.
According to Dr. Smith the Delta variant isn’t skipping over vaccinated folks. He urged people to listen to leading health experts like the CDC, regardless of what local authorities say.
Some areas across the East are returning to indoor-mask recommendations, due to a rise in cases related to this Delta variant and local businesses are watching.
“I think it’s important to protect the people around you. Truly, I think that’s what it is,” said Victoria Mullins, a bookkeeper at Union Ave Books. “I think it’s the least we can do especially because it’s much harder to be completely shut down economically.”
But Scott West, who owns many bars in downtown Knoxville, said that a return to mask requirements could put his businesses in a tough spot. However, he also said that if they need to start wearing masks again, they will.
He said he hopes it doesn’t come to that though. He said trying to enforce mask restrictions with customers can be an excrutiating challenge
"We can enforce it with out our staff. My entire staff wore masks until recently but customers, it’s a different beast because people can get a little agitated and I don’t want one of my staff members to get injured because of something like that," he said.
Either way, wearing a mask is a way everyone can help get ahead of the spread and protect others, said Dr. Smith. He also said it could help keep businesses open.