Mandating masks: Why one county leader said no

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CLINTON, Tenn. (WATE) – Five days after Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order extending individual counties’ ability to mandate face coverings, several East Tennessee leaders have opted for and against the requirement.

The list of nearby counties with a mandate, as of now, include: Knox, Sevier, and Claiborne.
So far, the list of counties where the requirement will not be issued include: Blount, Roane, Loudon, and Anderson.

PREVIOUS STORY: Anderson County mayor opts out of Gov. Lee’s mask mandate

We spoke to Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank about her decision Wednesday.

Frank said while she does encourage people to wear masks, they are not a silver bullet, and they’re not the only method for slowing the spread of the virus. The mayor said she prefers social distancing over face coverings, personally.

On the decision not to mandate masks, she also cited them as a source of division in a time we need to be united.

“When we’re dealing with public health, it is better that we come together as a community of people. That’s how we tackle drug abuse. That’s how we tackle many issues that we’re dealing with in the community,” she said. “I think where we have gone with the mask debate is pitting a neighbor against a neighbor, for what is a tool to preventing the spread of coronavirus.”

She cited the recent Fourth of July, drive-in style firework event as an example of the personal responsibility she’s seen around the county.

“It was remarkable and heart-warming to see people come out, line up on the highway. The people that got out, stayed by their car. There were no mass gatherings,” she said.

Ultimately, Mayor Frank hopes people will take the county’s relatively low case count, number of deaths, and absence of mandated masks as message to keep it up.

“People are smart. People want to live and they know what they need to do and we’ve seen that taking place in Anderson County. They’re able to follow it and they’re living that out,” she added.

Frank also noted more information, from the state, is required to make a fully-formed decision. The mayor said she isn’t provided essential data from the state, including what co-morbidity were associated with the county’s two deaths, their hospital capacity, or general information about where new cases are originating.

Liz Lee is concerned for her own health as well as the health of her husband, who she says falls in the vulnerable category for COVID-19 complications.

She wishes there was no need for a mandate discussion and everyone would put one on when out in public. Her daughter, Hope Davis, is pleased there won’t be a mask mandate in Anderson County.
Davis feels attention to the coronavirus isn’t a proportionate one, she said she still takes steps to help slow the spread and respect others: “Certainly, if I’m around someone that, you know, feels uncomfortable with me not wearing a mask, and I need to be around them, then I will put my mask on. In general, I don’t wear a mask. I just stay my distance and I try to keep my distance from others. Hopefully, they’ll do the same.”

Lee fears too many out in public aren’t taking potential risks to others, and asymptomatic transmission, into consideration. “I think the small price to pay for my health and the health of my husband is a mask,” she said. “It’s a manner of conscience and that I think is lacking.”

Davis doesn’t seem the same mass disregard for others that her mom has witnessed. “We have all just stayed our distance. We wash our hands. We don’t touch things. You try to be respectful of that. I also feel the masks are giving people a false sense of security and they’re being worse about the social distancing.”

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