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Knox Co. mask mandate to continue, BOH extends dining curfew and gathering limitations

Knox County's regulations will remain in place until at least January 21 after the Board of Health voted to extend them out.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The Knox County Board of Health opted to keep current COVID-19 restrictions and mandates in place as new cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise to distressing new highs locally and across Tennessee.

The county is seeing a ray of hope with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout getting into swing. Currently, Knox County remains in the initial phases of Tennessee's recently updated vaccination plan -- but is making progress and will soon be able to provide more people in higher-risk situations with the first vaccine.  

The Knox County Health Department said it will be holding a vaccination clinic at the Knoxville Expo Center on Saturday to allow more healthcare employees, first responders, people to perform mortuary services and people 75 and up to have a chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The BOH opted to continue enforcing the mask mandate set in place back in July. 

Dr. Martha Buchanan said complaints from the public about mask compliance at businesses has largely dropped off, but worried about people removing masks after vaccines become more widely available. She said there will be a period of time where people should continue wearing masks as more vaccines are administered until the threat of public COVID-19 spread has visibly diminished.

"Even after you get vaccinated, it will still be important to wear a mask like you were doing before," she said.

The BOH discussed potentially changing a regulation passed in November that enforces a 10 p.m. curfew and occupancy restrictions on restaurants and bars, but ultimately decided 8-1 to extend it into January 21, 2021 as is.  

Dr. Patrick O'Brien wished to keep the regulation in place with added exceptions to keep restaurants open for in-person dining for shift workers in critical roles such as first responders, utility workers and healthcare workers.

Mayor Glenn Jacobs proposed going back to a curfew that only applied to bars, but Buchanan said the change made to include restaurants was already a compromise to prevent far stricter measures that would completely close down businesses. 

"Actually the White House report recommended closing all bars until the positivity rate was down to 3%, which be be a very long time," Buchanan said.

The BOH also voted 8-1 to extend another regulation passed in December that enforces restrictions on social gatherings until Jan. 21, 2021.

Mayor Jacobs was the only no vote, but said people still need to stay home -- echoing his colleagues on the BOH in saying he will be very glad to see this year end.

"This is not the year for people to be partying or going out," Jacobs said. "I will probably not watch the ball drop anywhere in the U.S. and watch it instead drop somewhere else in the world so I can go to bed at 9 o'clock."