KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Board of Health met for its Sept. 16 meeting via Zoom at 5 p.m. with several items on the agenda as the board works through how to best address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Later on in the meeting, the health board passed in an 8-1 vote an amended regulation to close bars, restaurants and businesses that serve alcohol at 11 p.m. This will go into effect on Friday, Sept. 18. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs was the only dissenting vote.
The new regulation expands the alcohol curfew beyond just bars. It came after discussion of pushing a hard closure to 11 p.m. Beforehand, only bars were under a 10 p.m. alcohol sale curfew.
The board also passed a regulation to limit all public and private gatherings of more than 25 people, aged 12 and older, within the same 900 square feet of indoor space. There are some exceptions, including places of worship, private homes, and long-term care or assisted living facilities; as well as government buildings. This will go into effect on Friday, Sept. 18.
New to the health board meeting scene were city officials — Knoxville Police Department’s Chief Eve Thomas and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.
Among the agenda items — the health department’s benchmark presentation, the UT Medical Center data report, the educational institutions’ update, a review of the health board regulations such as the face-covering mandate and the bars curfew; a discussion of restricting alcohol sales and consumption after 10 p.m. (along with a draft regulation); a revised draft regulation to limit gatherings and a discussion and review of the Tennessee Pledge.
“I’m glad for an even playing field, that’s kind of what this feels like for us,” said co-owners of Tern Club, Ryan Shanley and Jocelyn Morin.
“It’s been difficult with the 10 p.m. curfew for us and our staff, and while we support these regulations and are doing our best to uphold those regulations, we were happy to see that across the board all places have to close,” Shanley said.
Minutes before the meeting began at 5 p.m., dozens of restaurants and bars banded together, arguing in a letter sent by attorney Greg Issacs that the board hasn’t provided scientific evidence for the potential move for alcohol sales restrictions. They want a delay in order to make their case.
During the meeting, officials with the city and police department discussed enforcement, which can be requested by the health board.
Enforcement being a key component for regulations passed Wednesday; however, city and police leaders emphasized education.
“There have been a lot of community discussions about enforcement,” Mayor Kincannon said to the board. “I just wanted to say the city of Knoxville and the Knoxville Police Department are ready, able, and willing to help with enforcement of all board of health regulations.”
Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas said she had already spoken with Chief Lane, and planned to talk with Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler about enforcement and working together. Thomas emphasized that while they’re still focused on education, a clearer definition of what bars would help with efforts.
University of Tennessee officials said they knew of “at least two” students who had been hospitalized due to COVID-19.
The meeting adjourned at 8:14 p.m.
The new regulations will take effect Friday.