KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County’s Board of Health approved tighter COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants and bars during its special called meeting on Monday night.

The move comes as health officials warn of hospitals under strain and case counts on the rise.

COVID-19 Restaurant Occupancy Limitation and Early Closure Regulation

The big action taken by the board is a modified curfew on restaurants and bars.

The businesses will soon have to stop dine-in service at 10 p.m.

All board of health members at the meeting, including Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, approved the change unanimously.

The board was originally considering a 9 p.m. curfew, but opted for a 10 p.m. one instead.

Members also voted in favor of keeping restaurant and bar capacity at 50% occupancy and capping table seating at eight people, unless they’re from the same household.

“Many times you’ll have two 4 tops, which is a table that seats four people, and they’ll be pushed together. And when you have those two empty seats sitting there, in normal circumstances, it hurts to have two 4-tops pushed together for six people,” said Board of Health Citizen Representative, Ani Roma.

The move came after the board heard from Aubrey’s restaurant owner Randy Burleson. He insisted his staff is being safe.

“It’s almost like they’re firing a cannon at the restaurants. They may take out a tree but they’re missing the forest on this one because we’re not the problem right here,” Burleson said.

“It is not your staff or your managers that are part of the problem of spreading COVID. It is instead patrons who come in who use your location as a place to meet, and therefore sit across from each other for 15 minutes or more without masks on many times because they’re eating,” board member Dr. Patrick O’Brien explained.

The regulation goes into effect Wednesday, November 25, and is slated to last 28 days, unless renewed.

COVID-19 Social Gathering Limitation Regulation

Also on Monday night’s agenda was a social gathering limitation regulation, proposing that people don’t gather in social groups of more than eight people.

Dr. Martha Buchanan withdrew the order until a further meeting, citing confusion among board members.

“What I’m hearing is it doesn’t seem clear for people to be able to follow it,” she said.

COVID-19 Risk Reduction Guidelines Resolution

The board, though, did pass a Risk Reduction resolution that strongly encourages following the 5 Core Actions and how specifically to do that.

“Between Wednesday and next Saturday is our most critical time that will affect us probably for the next two to four weeks. So if we can get people to listen and to act with these sorts of items, it can make a huge difference in our community,” Dr. O’Brien said.

The Board of Health’s next meeting is on December 2.