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'Please be respectful' | Sevier County busy as spring break season begins

As tourism picks up again, health leaders warn the pandemic isn't over yet. Things like masks and social distancing are still necessary to help slow the spread.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn — In Sevier County, lifetime Gatlinburg resident Clark King said business had slowed down on the weekdays for the past five or six weeks.

That's no longer true.

"We're going to be slammed," King said. "I'm a little concerned that people are letting their guard down too quick."

In Sevier County, more than 12,300 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 166 of them have died from the virus. Health experts caution spring breakers need to be careful and avoid travel whenever possible.

"Congregating together is an opportunity for that virus to spread," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "We don't want to create a super spreading spring."

He recommended people look for socially distant opportunities, particularly those outdoors.

"Outside is much less risky than inside," Dr. Schaffner said. 

RELATED: More than half-million people visited Great Smoky Mountains in January

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spokesperson Dana Soehn said there are plenty of places to spread out. Less-crowded times to visit typically include before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m., as well as mid-week. 

"The park has so many opportunities for people to have a safe experience to get out and enjoy hiking or camping or picnicking or just a stroll along the river," Soehn said. "But, we do ask that people take some time to plan so they can choose a less crowded destination."

King hopes people will follow the recommendations from the experts in order to protect each other. With no enforcement of virus precautions, it's up to everyone to do their part.

"We all want [the pandemic to be] over, but we must adhere to the guidelines of health care professionals," he said. "We want you to come, but we want you to come and be safe. Just please, be respectful."

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