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Knox County mandates masks in indoor public spaces starting July 3

Most people 12 and older will be required to wear masks anytime they are out in public at indoor and enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — It will soon be required to wear a mask out in public in Knox County.

On Wednesday, the Knox County Board of Health voted to mandate wearing masks in indoor public spaces staring July 3. The only dissenting vote on the measure came from Mayor Glenn Jacobs.

The regulation states the measure will remain in place until suspended. Most people 12 and older will be required to wear masks anytime they are out in public at indoor and enclosed spaces where maintaining 6 feet of social distancing is not feasible.

The board voted to strike public schools from falling under their order, due to them following the Department of Education. There are a few exceptions to the mandate, including people with certain underlying health conditions, people needing to communicate with those who are deaf or hard of hearing, and in cases where having a mask on would create a work-safety hazard. 

This order only applies to indoor public spaces such as stores and restaurants. People are not required to wear a mask when attending a place a worship, when outdoors, or when at their home, a hotel room, or inside their vehicle.

People who fail to wear a face covering in indoor spaces where they are required would potentially face penalties. Those operating indoor public spaces who knowingly fail to comply with enforcing the county rules will also be subject to penalties, including revocations or suspension of their licenses and permits under county health codes.

The vote comes after weeks of rising cases and a recent surge in the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19. Dr. Lisa Piercey, director of the Tennessee Department of Health, as well as numerous other local, state and national lawmakers and doctors, are worried about the trend -- saying they are seeing far too many people not taking their recommendations seriously to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance from others.  

Credit: KCHD
Regional COVID-19 hospitalization levels in the Knox County/East Tennessee region.

"Please listen carefully: This is not the time to get back to normal. We are all experiencing what we call quarantine fatigue, but I can guarantee you the virus is not getting tired," Piercey said. “Masks are one of the single most effective tools we have to combat the spread of virus. We can halt and reverse the trend of COVID-19 before it becomes dire."

Governor Bill Lee said Wednesday he is also exploring allowing leaders in the 89 counties that are following state health guidance to make a decision on whether to mandate masks in their communities.  

So far, Nashville, Memphis and Knox County have approved mask mandates. In Hamilton County and the Chattanooga area, Hamilton Co. Mayor Jim Coppinger has also said the area is seriously considering a similar mandate.

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