Wearing a mask or facial covering can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, keep others from suffering serious health complications from the virus and allow the economy to continue reopening without another shutdown.
Those were all messages shared by Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison, medical and health professionals and local officials Tuesday during a press conference to announce an executive order mandating the wearing of face masks or other facial coverings.
The effort to limit the spread and bring the number of cases down is going to everyone in Greene County working together, Morrison said, and wearing masks or facial coverings is a way to protect those who may be vulnerable to the virus and suffer life-threatening symptoms.
“Is it too much to ask to look out for others as this is the challenge of our day?” he said. “Previous generations have done tremendous things — they have gone to the moon. Future generations will probably find a cure for cancer. But this, regardless of how it got here, is here and it is the challenge of our time.
“We are asking all our residents, all our visitors, all our business, all of our industry to join us, support us, help us get control of this virus, and we can return to a time when we again live, work and play without this scourge of this disease,” Morrison continued.
The nearly tripling of cases in Greene County over the past three weeks was one of the factors in the decision to issue the executive order, the mayor said.
Six new cases of virus were reported in Greene County on Tuesday, according to the daily update from the Tennessee Department of Health. There are now 70 active cases of the virus with 163 cases recorded in the county since the pandemic began, according to the state.
Two people have died from the coronavirus in Greene County and 91 people have recovered.
One of those who have recovered, Dr. Daniel Lewis, spoke briefly during the press conference about his experience, which included being placed on a ventilator. The local medical community is in support of the mandate, he said, and urges people to wear masks in public. Morrison also received a letter of support for the mandate to wear masks from the Greene County Medical Society.
“More and more evidence is coming out on a daily basis showing masks are effective in helping to limit the spread of COVID 19 transmission both personally and those around you,” Lewis said.
While some have expressed concerns about wearing masks for longer periods of time, surgeons and nurses often wear them 12 to 14 hours a day with no issues, the doctor continued.
“It is not a detriment to your health at all,” he said. “It is a very small step you can do to facilitate and help us gain control of this virus and get back to normal. To get back to our normal state, there are going to have to be some sacrifices to be made.”
Across the state, 1,514 new cases of the virus were reported Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 66,788 since the pandemic started. There are 27,749 people with active cases of the virus in the state. Statewide, 767 people have died from the virus.
Cathy Osborne, director of the Greene County Health Department, said her department and the state Health Department support the mask mandate and continue to encourage frequent hand washing and social distancing.
Free COVID-19 testing is available at the Health Department from 9 a.m. to noon each weekday. Osborne said the number of people getting tested has significantly increased in the past few weeks.
The executive order, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and expires Aug. 14, says “all residents, visitors, employees or patrons of business, industry, restaurants, retail, organizations or venues are required to wear or shall require the wear/use of infection control masks or other such facial coverings to assist with control of droplet/breath/projectile transmission of COVID 19.”
Masks or facial coverings should be worn properly, covering the nose and mouth, especially in public where there is general public activity where large numbers may congregate, there may be prolonged contact between persons and social distancing cannot be maintained, the order states.
The order also references Centers for Disease Control guidelines for those who should not wear masks, including children under the age of 2 or those with lung conditions.
Lewis spoke to the use of cloth masks. Those masks can be effective in reducing the distance droplets from sneezes, coughs or normal speech can go, particularly if the masks has a double layer of breathable, cotton material that is not see-through, he said. With two people wearing a mask, the chance of spread of the virus can be reduced by 80%, according to studies.
SUPPORT EXPRESSEDMorrison thanked residents, Greene County Commissioners, county departments, elected officials, Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels and City Administrator Todd Smith for their expressions of support for the mask mandate and “that we are doing the right thing.”
Smith spoke to the town’s return to Phase I of its reopening plan, which is based on data including number of active cases in Greene County and consecutive number of days with an increase in cases.
This phase effects the closing of town facilities to public, but services are continuing and governmental functions are being maintained, he explained, asking the public to call first if they need to do business with the town.
Town employees have been encouraged to wear masks when working with the public and are strongly encouraging the mask mandate.
“A small step of wearing a mask can go a long way in reducing these numbers that have, frankly, put some concern in us and, I know, the county mayor,” he said.
Morrison recalled that on March 20 he issued a declaration of a public health state of emergency in Greene County, one of the first in Northeast Tennessee to do so.
Since that time, Greene Countians have seen schools close, the economy shut down and, he said, seen people frightened about the future.
The increase in cases in recent weeks and the concern it brought, as well as a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court to mandate mask use in all courthouses, helped influence the executive order, Morrison said.
“We are not doing this to flex political or power muscle, we are doing this asking for consideration of those most vulnerable to the virus, the aged, and knowing that this disease is new,” he said.
The virus affects people differently and unpredictably, Morrison said. While one person may have just mild symptoms or none at all, others can become seriously ill and die.
Asked about the enforceability of the order, Morrison said it does not have the weight of state law behind it, but it is a request for the public, business and industry to wear a mask to protect someone else.
In reference to the political nature some have assigned to mask wearing, Morrison said wearing a mask should not be political.
“It is just reasonable and prudent to take action to protect not just yourself but others around you, particularly the most vulnerable, the immune compromised, the elderly, etc.”
“Are you compromising your integrity, your civil rights that much, that it means that much, that you can put someone else at risk?” he asked.