Outside urban areas, officials reluctant to pass mask mandates

By: - July 15, 2020 6:00 am
(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

When Gov. Bill Lee gave county mayors the authority to issue mask mandates in the midst of a rising number of statewide COVID19 cases, the response from both the public and the mayors themselves was an assortment of immediate implementations, shrugs, and outright dismissals. In areas outside of the larger cities in Tennessee, a seemingly unfavorable public opinion regarding masks is particularly pronounced

Mask mandates are in effect in counties that hold the largest cities in the state, including Davidson County (home to Nashville), Shelby County (home to Memphis), and Knox County (home to Knoxville). In western and Middle Tennessee, Robertson County, Williamson County, and Madison County also require masks. 

We also felt that the business community wanted to stay open and if people saw them doing what the order stated, more people would agree to wear masks.

– Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durett

But even within the announcement of the mask mandate in Madison County was an acknowledgement that many Tennesseeans don’t think masks are effective or necessary. When Jackson-Madison County Regional Health Department Director Kim Tedford issued the order, she noted that she knew a lot of people might dislike and disagree with the rule, but the rising number of cases warranted it. “I’ve got family members who don’t think we need to wear a mask,” she said, The Jackson Sun reported. 

Those sentiments are reflected in the mask requirements of other counties. Effective July 8, Montgomery County has a mandate requiring that employees of businesses open to the public wear masks. However, members of the community who are patronizing such businesses are only “encouraged” to wear masks.

Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett says the decision to only require employees to wear masks was based on several factors, including the number of hospitalizations, the number of people recovered, and the percent of positive coronavirus tests. Since July 7, he says, the percent of positive tests is at 4.44%, and the county had not been above 4% since early May.  

“We also felt that the business community wanted to stay open and if people saw them doing what the order stated, more people would agree to wear masks,” Durrett says in explaining the decision. “It is somewhat like the signs you see on many business establishments ‘No shoes, No shirt, No service.’”

Kate Matties, who lives in Clarksville, says she doesn’t understand the issue some people have with wearing a mask in crowded places. As a mortgage loan originator, she has an office where she can close the door, but whenever someone comes in or she goes into the lobby to greet someone, she puts a mask on.

“It’s a very simple way to help us get back to having things opened up,” Matties, 44, says. And while she says she thinks more people are wearing masks and taking the virus seriously, she points out that “there is an outspoken minority that is making a lot of noise and taking their cues from politicians instead of healthcare personnel. That’s a dangerous game.

In Stewart County, Mayor Robin Brandon said on his Facebook page that he would never institute a mask mandate, calling such requirements absurd and unconstitutional.

Stewart County Mayor Robin Brandon (Photo: Stewart County Government)
Stewart County Mayor Robin Brandon (Photo: Stewart County Government)

“I would NEVER place an absurd requirement of wearing masks on our citizens,” Brandon wrote. “First of all, it’s not constitutional. However, if I were to go all “communistic and Marxist” (like those idiots in BLM) I would consider asking the Sheriff to place road blocks at the County line to stop all non Stewart County license plates from entering. Lol. How’s that for a real taste of power over reach?”

When one commenter replied to compare wearing a mask to wearing a seatbelt for safety, Brandon called it a “stupid analogy” and wrote that “wearing a mask is like wearing a seatbelt while walking.” Brandon did not respond to the Tennessee Lookout’s requests for comment.

Like people’s opinions, the research is also not 100% certain about the effectiveness of cloth masks, because the virus hasn’t been around long enough to fully study it. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts do say masks are beneficial in helping prevent the spread of the disease.

According a study slated for publication this month in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, cloth masks are not as effective as medical masks and respirators, but “cloth masks may be used to prevent community spread of infections by sick or asymptomatically infected persons, and the public should be educated about their correct use.” The researchers note that cloth masks should fit around the face, have multiple layers, and be made of water-resistant fabric with a high number of threads and a fine weave. They also recommend that the masks be washed daily.

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Celia Darrough
Celia Darrough

Celia Darrough is a freelance journalist based in Clarksville. She is the former senior news editor for Bustle and has also written for Mic, Refinery29, and Thrillist. Celia has lived and reported all across the country, from Alaska and Oregon to New York City and now Tennessee. You can follow her on Twitter at @celiadarrough.