Knox County pandemic regulations to stay in place despite health board power shift

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County’s Board of Health will soon lose its regulating power and become an advisory board.

Over the past year, the health board has enacted a handful of regulations and resolutions related to public health.

Last month, Knox County Commission voted to strip the board of its policy-making ability. The move instead turns the group in to an advisory board for the county’s health department and its health director, Dr. Martha Buchanan.

That means Buchanan can consult board members for their advice and feedback, but they will no longer have the same authority to enact policy.

How will this all play out? We answer your questions.

When exactly will the Board of Health become advisory?

Tuesday, April 13.

Even though County Commission passed the ordinance to shift the health board’s power at the end of March, the change did not happen immediately. The Knox County mayor’s office told us that since the action was completed by ordinance, it takes effect 15 days after its adoption.

That means the ordinance becomes effective on April 13, and that’s when the board becomes advisory, according to Knox County Law Director David Buuck.

What happens to the pandemic regulations put in place by the board of health?

“The mandates issued by the BOH expire and become of no legal force and effect after April 13,” wrote Law Director Buuck.

Currently, the board of health has two active regulations in place: the COVID-19 Restaurant Occupancy Limitation and Early Closure Regulation, as well as the COVID-19 Face Covering Regulation.

The indoor mask mandate took effect July 2020.

The Restaurant Occupancy Limitation and Early Closure Regulation applies to restaurants, bars, event venues, and other similar food and drink establishments, including night clubs. They must limit capacity to 50% occupancy and keep at least 6 feet between parties not from the same household. They’re also required to close for on-site consumption at 1 a.m.

Will Buchanan have the power to enact new regulations or reinstate the previous ones?

Yes.

Buuck says under Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order No. 77 the local health departments in six Tennessee counties, including Knox County, have the authority to issue regulations. That is the case until the executive order expires or is amended.

Right now, and unless it is extended, the governor’s order is in place until April 28.

What will Buchanan do with the current BOH regulations?

Buchanan plans to keep both board of health regulations in place, according to the Knox County Health Department.

We’re also told Buchanan plans to discuss the curfew regulation with the board of health at its next meeting. That’s scheduled for April 21.

“Though they will now serve in an advisory capacity, she looks forward to hearing their thoughts on the matter,” a KCHD spokesperson said.

Which health board members will stay on as advisers?

Dr. Patrick O’Brien wrote a letter to Knox County Commission Chairman Larsen Jay ahead of the commission’s vote, in which he said: “It was an honor and privilege to serve on the Knox County Board of Health with my fellow board members, but I feel as though given the direction that has been set by the Knox County Commission, it is time for me to step aside and focus my time and energy elsewhere.”

However, O’Brien’s fellow colleagues Dr. James Shamiyeh, Dr. Jack Gotcher, and citizen representative Ani Roma told us they plan to continue to serve.

We are still waiting to hear back from other board members Dr. Dianna Drake, Dr. Maria Hurt, and Dr. Marcy Souza.

How did Knox County commissioners vote?

Knox County Commission passed the board of health ordinance in an 8-3 vote. Chairman Jay and commissioners Dasha Lundy and Courtney Durrett voted against it. The remaining eight commissioners voted in its favor – that’s commissioners John Schoonmaker, Randy Smith, Kyle Ward, Terry Hill, Charles Busler, Richie Beeler, Carson Dailey and Justin Biggs.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Elizabeth Kuebel sits down for a one-on-one interview with Dr. Martha Buchanan today. We’ll have the latest this evening, starting with WATE 6 On Your Side News at 4:00.

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