East TN counties deciding whether to implement mask mandates

Local News

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — Sevier County officials originally planned to release its decision on a mask mandate Monday, but decided to push back the announcement to Tuesday.

After Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order 54, a few county leaders in East Tennessee said they were discussing whether to implement a mask mandate.

Sevier County leaders said they were waiting to make a decision until Tuesday because they are still working with legal counsel and the health department about the implementation of the order.

Ken Maples, a Pigeon Forge Commissioner, said that although the decision was technically up to the Sevier County mayor, all four cities in the county along with emergency management officials were helping.

Maples said he hoped the ultimate decision was to implement a mask mandate for Sevier County.

He said he is usually against government mandates, but on this issue he wanted to err on the side of safety.

“I’ve got to take into consideration the 6,000 residents in Pigeon Forge that I represent, in addition to the many, many visitors that come and go literally each day, each week,” Maples said.

Maples said they have to take into account the recent surge in cases.

“It’s looking at the current situation and the recent uptick in cases. When something like that happens, again, we have to look at the community as a whole and say ‘hey, what can we do to make responsible decisions as representatives of the folks and the visitors, the citizens and the visitors, to hopefully, you know, you heard the phrase ‘flatten the curve’ or get this to slow down a bit to where we can manage it a little bit better,” Maples said.

Campbell and Loudon County mayors also announced they would be making a decision about the mask mandate this week.

Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said he talked with healthcare professionals, city mayors, small business owners, Loudon County residents and several other county mayors about the mandate.

Bradshaw ultimately decided not to issue a mask mandate.

“In order to mandate this, I think it would be an overreach of what my constitution would be first and foremost. But, I think it’s up to each individual to be responsible for their own safety, and I think it’s better left up to the individual and to the business,” Bradshaw said.

He said he was glad Gov. Lee left the decision up to county mayors because not every county has been impacted by COVID-19 the same.

Maples felt the opposite. He said that having the county mayors decide creates confusion for residents and tourists.

“There’s visitors that, for instance, come to Sevier County and then may go to Blount County to Townsend and the Cades Cove area and the two governments may have different mask requirements. So, why not make it all the same across the state of Tennessee if we’re surging in the majority of the counties across the state of Tennessee,” Maples said.

WATE 6 On Your Side also reached out to Blount, Anderson and Hamblen county mayors but has not heard back.

Campbell County Mayor E. L. Morton posted on Facebook stating that the county will only recommend masks to be worn, but won’t make it a mandate.

“With our Governor’s delegating authority to county Mayor’s to mandate mask wearing, I remain in consultation with our health department in regard to actions to prevent the spread of this virus. Restricting the freedom of Americans concerns me. Health threats to Americans concern me too. I ask you to consider health risks in your life and in the lives around you and act accordingly.Wearing masks remains a recommendation, alongside frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, temperature checks at gathering places, groups of 50 or less, at 6 feet apart.”

E.L. Morton, Campbell County Mayor

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