A facial covering mandate will go into effect for Greene County on Wednesday.
Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison announced Monday evening that the mandate would go into effect Wednesday morning. A declaration about the masks is expected to be prepared on Tuesday.
“After careful consideration and receiving very alarming and troubling statistics from Ballad Health Systems on the near tripling of hospitalization cases in our area just this week, along with the fact that our school officials are working diligently to open schools on time and as safely as possible, and as we look to keep businesses open and our economy from closing once again, it is necessary to enact a mask mandate or facial covering mandate for Greene County to assist in curbing the dramatic rise in cases across our community,” Morrison said.
The county manager acknowledged the mandate “is obviously not enforceable as it does not have the weight of law” and said said county officials won’t ask law enforcement agencies “to be the mask police.”
It is, he said, “a challenge to all of our citizens to wear a mask in open public settings where there are many gathered, and where social distancing is not possible, to help us gain control of this dramatic rise in cases before our health care system is overwhelmed.
“It is a plea to do the right thing to protect those we love and those most vulnerable,” Morrison said.
Greene County recorded six new cases of the novel coronavirus Monday, bringing the total to date to 157 and the number of active cases to 64.
Those six new cases were part of the 3,314 reported across the state Monday, a record number of new virus cases, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Tennessee has had 65,274 cases since the pandemic began, according to the state agency, which lists 64,737 of those cases confirmed and 537 “probable.”
Shelby County had the most cases statewide in Monday’s report with 14,163. It was followed closely by Davidson County with 13,976 total cases.
Monday’s new case numbers top Tennessee’s previous one-day total of 2,451 recorded on Thursday. Monday saw eight new deaths from COVID-19 — the illness caused by the virus — in Tennessee, bringing the total number of deaths from the pandemic to 749.
Greene County has had two deaths, and 91 people who have recovered from the illness.
Other surrounding counties also have increasing numbers of active cases. There are 130 active cases in Washington County, which will be under a mandate for people to wear facial coverings in public places beginning Tuesday. Active case totals in other counties include 300 in Sevier, 253 in Hamblen, 106 in Sullivan, 74 in Cocke, 51 in Carter and 39 in Hawkins.
With these increases, Ballad Health officials have renewed their calls for people to take precautions.
“The number of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals is rapidly increasing on a weekly basis,” said Dr. Clay Runnels, chief physician executive of Ballad Health. “The disease is spreading more rapidly than ever, and it poses a serious threat to our community. Each of us is at risk, and it’s up to each of us to take precautions to slow the disease.
“If you’re clamoring for a return to normal, but not wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing or being hypervigilant about hand hygiene, you’re not helping our community reach that goal,” he said. “In fact, by refusing to take sensible steps to protect yourself and others, you could be causing serious damage to you and those around you.”
Runnels expressed further concern that, with the steep increase of local COVID-19 cases, Ballad Health’s hospitals and medical facilities could become overwhelmed, leading to overflowing intensive care units (ICUs) and supply shortages that have struck other hospitals and health systems in places such as Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York, in a release from the health system.
As of July 9, nearly 20% of Ballad Health’s ventilators were in use, and the health system’s beds were at more than 75% capacity. Runnels and other Ballad Health leaders are now worried that, as the year extends into flu season, the number of people in the Appalachian Highlands who need major health care interventions will outpace hospital units’ capacities and staffing levels.
“Unless major steps are taken now, by everyone, to slow COVID-19, we could be facing a situation in which we have to make serious decisions about how we deliver care, and if we’re going to be able to provide certain health care services for everyone who needs them,” he said. “These kinds of difficult choices might have seemed far-fetched once upon a time, but as the COVID-19 curve climbs higher, that scenario becomes more and more real.”
An estimated 5-10% of people who contract COVID-19 are eventually hospitalized. COVID-19 hospitalizations within Ballad Health have ranged from pediatric patients to the elderly.