Knox County Board of Health meets amid call to change its power, extends 11 p.m. alcohol curfew

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KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County’s Board of Health met Tuesday night, amid calls to change the board’s power.

Legislation Filed

Knoxville representative Jason Zachary filed legislation on Tuesday morning that would move the Knox County Board of Health to an advisory role and give final authority and decision-making power to the county mayor.

The legislation would also apply to Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, Sullivan and Madison counties.

“We’re simply taking those six counties and saying your health boards, they’re important, they’re trusted advisors to the county executive, but you will be an advisory role and the county mayor will have the final say,” Rep. Zachary explained.

Zachary intends to mirror the same decision-making hierarchy as the state government, and put policy-making power in the hands of elected officials.

“These health boards are made up of medical professionals, which we absolutely need. But just as in state government, with the state health department advising the governor, it should be the exact same on the local level, where we have these health boards and these health professionals advising the county mayor for him to make the final and ultimate decision, because that’s what we elected him to do,” he said.

For weeks, the Board of Health has dominated discussion during Knox County Commission’s public forum, with calls from community members to dissolve the board.

Zachary says that is not what his legislation will do.

“This legislation puts them back in that advisory role. So they can be in that position, they were brought on as advisors, and they can continue to advise Dr. Buchanan, they can advise the mayor and really help our community make the best decisions possible for the health and well-being of the citizens of Knox County. But it doesn’t put them in an executive and legislative role,” he said.

Alcohol Curfew Extended

In the meantime, the Board of Health continued to operate Tuesday night as it has for months.

Members extended the 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants that serve alcohol until the end of November.

It passed in an 8-1 vote. County Mayor Glenn Jacobs voted no.

The move came amid concerns about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

“People come from out of town to be with family, and then they go to their hometown bar the night before they’re going to be spending time with family,” Citizen Representative, Ani Roma said.

“We do need to make sure that the owners of establishments really work to keep doing, the ones that are doing it correctly, keep doing that. And make sure that people are spaced out, that they’re wearing their mask when they’re not eating or drinking,” Dr. Patrick O’Brien said.

Current COVID-19 Situation

Also during the meeting, health officials painted a picture of the county’s current COVID-19 situation, including record case counts and sustained high positivity rates.

“We’ve been at 27 days at greater than a 10 percent positivity rate there,” said Dr. James Shamiyeh during his University of Tennessee Medical Center Data Update.

Health Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said three of the county’s five benchmarks are red.

“That certainly catches my attention. I don’t remember seeing this many reds,” board member Dr. Maria Hurt said in response.

“Those are all concerning, I think we need to consider this data carefully as a board and what can we do to help slow the spread of COVID in our community,” said Dr. Buchanan.

Finalization of Metrics

The board also voted to adopt a set of metrics to serve as another source of information to help guide reopening decisions.

Members will have their next meeting on November 25th.

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