Oak Ridge divided: Half of city under mask mandate, other half not

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — One East Tennessee city is put in a unique position: Half of Oak Ridge is now under a mask mandate, but the other half is not.

The Roane County side of Oak Ridge now has a face covering requirement in effect, while the Anderson County side of Oak Ridge doesn’t.

A city spokesperson tells us Oak Ridge police officers will continue to do what they have been doing – and that’s encouraging people to wear a mask in public. This, as it now becomes mandatory in a portion of the city.

“If the pandemic is to get as serious as we hear some of the doctors talk about, and that this simple act of having a mask is important and can help save lives, then we want to look at doing that,” said Oak Ridge City Manager, Mark Watson.

Watson says he thinks Oak Ridge leaders would support the entire city having a mask requirement, but currently, that’s not the case.

On Monday, Roane County Mayor Ron Woody put a mask mandate in place, effective immediately.

That means the Roane County side of Oak Ridge has to follow the order, while the Anderson County side doesn’t have one in effect.

“I have contacted Mayor Frank of Anderson County and said, ‘can you help me out. Can you help me clarify what we should do as a city in regards to this,'” Watson said. “Perhaps it’s not good for all of Anderson County, but certainly where 50 percent of the population is, it may be good. And those are the questions that have to be looked at.”

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank wrote to us in part quote, “I am very sensitive to the heartfelt belief held by many that an enforcement approach is the answer, but I don’t think we can police our way out of this pandemic any more than we can incarcerate ourselves out of widespread addiction issues.”

With the city right now split on both sides of the restriction, the City Manager has this message for everyone who calls it home:

“Anything that we can do, little or small, spacing, masks, whatever it may be, will be helpful for us to survive and get through this thing,” Watson said.

Oak Ridge cannot put a mask mandate in place because the governor gave that authority to county leaders, not city ones.

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