PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE)– Visitors coming into the city for the Spring Rod Run won’t need to worry about wearing a mask this weekend, at least in most places they go.
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters will allow the county’s mask mandate to expire come 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
The county has been under a mask mandate since July, but local businesses and leaders will tell you that didn’t stop visitors from coming to the area.
“I think we’ll have a lot of our businesses, restaurants, think about the servers and people like that. Imagine a lot of out restaurants will still require people to wear masks when they come in,” said David Wear, Pigeon Forge mayor and vice president of The Island at Pigeon Forge.
Leon Downey, director of tourism for the city, said the continuous influx of visitors was largely due to Sevier County being so open, making social distancing a little easier in some parts.
“A lot of the people we noticed, in our research, that came here this year, especially early in the year, were people from larger cities that I think just wanted to get out of those big cities where they were confined,” Downey said.
He said most visitors were used to a mask mandate, because they had one where they were coming from.
Wear said with the Island being mostly outdoors, they saw a mix of people wearing masks and not wearing masks.
“We’ve seen people who are concerned, deeply concerned about the spread of the pandemic, and we’ve seen people who think masks don’t work and don’t care. We’ve seen them all,” Wear said.
Now that the mask mandate is expiring, Wear said the choice will be up to the businesses and the people.
“The individual businesses, there will be some that will keep the mask mandate to patron their business, they’ll require it. So, I like individual choice, better than mandates, so I think this is a very positive step in the right direction,” Wear said.
Downey said he wouldn’t be surprised if many businesses at the least continued to have their employees wear the masks, if not the patrons.
That’s how they are doing it within the city.
When Rod Run attendees go to the LeConte Center, they won’t have to wear masks, but they will see employees wearing them.
“The people coming in the building on Friday won’t have to wear a mask, unless they want to. We’re encouraging people to socially distance. We have clear markings on the floor, lots of signs and things like that. And we encourage people to wear a mask when they can’t socially distance,” Downey said.
Some Sevier County businesses have already announced changes in their mask policies, such as Dollywood.
Several employees at the Island said they were ready for the mandate to expire, and that they don’t mind visitors not wearing them.
However, some also said they were concerned for their safety. They said the masks keep the employees and patrons safe.
Wear said it was time for the mask mandate to expire.
He reiterated the reasonings Mayor Waters mentioned: fewer positive COVID-19 cases in the community and the vaccine becoming more available.
Wear also said businesses will continue to follow all other safety guidelines, like sanitizing and practicing social distancing, when possible.
“It’d be great to see people’s faces. So, hopefully everybody’s getting vaccinated, hopefully everybody’s doing their part to stay safe, and then we’ll get back to some kind of normal,” Wear said.