SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — Starting Friday, everyone in Sevier County will be required to wear masks while inside public places, with some exceptions. Some business owners said the decision was long overdue.
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters announced the mask mandate Tuesday.
Vesna Plakanis is the owner of "A Walk in the Woods" near Pittman Center. She lived in Sevier County for more than 20 years and was relieved Waters made the mandate call.
"It was about time," Plakanis said. "You know we bring in millions of people from everywhere and if we're going to bring these people in, then do it safely."
She said multiple tourists previously canceled their trips because the county didn't have a mask mandate. She believes the mandate will encourage more business in the county, helping to avoid another shutdown.
"Hopefully that's gonna make people feel a little more secure and want to come to Sevier County to spend their money," Plakanis explained.
The mandate starts July 10 and runs through August 3. It requires people to wear masks inside public indoor areas.
There are some exceptions. People don't need to wear masks while inside places of worship, while working out at a gym, while eating at a restaurant or while being outside.
Mayor Waters said he hopes people will still obey social distancing, especially in Gatlinburg, where people continue to crowd sidewalks.
"I hope people are responsible and understand that this is a social contract," Plakanis nodded.
Wilderness at the Smokies is fully complying with the mandate. The attraction is in a unique situation. Masks don't have to be worn in the water but will be required everywhere else inside. That includes the arcade, lobby and public areas near indoor pools.
"Our main objective is to make not only our own guests but our employees to feel comfortable not only when they come to work, but when they come to play," Nikki Harrell, Wilderness at the Smokies spokeswoman said.
Mayor Larry Waters said businesses that don't comply with the mask mandate will be given warnings and possibly citations.