In a meeting Wednesday night, the Knox County Board of Health passed the “COVID-19 Face Covering Regulation.” Masks are required inside all public spaces except for exempt populations and when eating or drinking. The measure covers stores, libraries, private businesses, communal spaces in apartments and condos. Essentially masks are required in any enclosed space the public is allowed to enter.
Board Member Dr. Patrick O’Brien who prepared the measure said, “I just don’t want to see our community become like Nashville, become like Memphis, or even Chattanooga. I wanted to do something proactively that the science tells me works…”
Going without a mask is considered a Class C Misdemeanor with punishments up to 30 days in jail and up to a $50 fine. The Board discussed enforcement at the meeting and agreed the intent is to issue warnings and, if possible, provide a face mask to those who do not have one. Exemptions were made for public schools, places of worship, and state and federal government facilities. Individuals with qualifying medical conditions and children under 12 are also exempt.
Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler released a statement saying, “There are serious questions as to the constitutionality of the order made by the health board. My Deputies are sworn to support and defend the constitution. We will rely on the citizens of this community to protect themselves and others in the manner they find appropriate.”
The text of the final bill hasn’t been released, but the proposed measure states, “no person age 12 years or older shall be within six feet of any other person, other than a person residing in the same household, in any indoor public place within Knox County without wearing a face covering.”
The Board voted 7 to 1 approving the measure. The sole dissenting vote was Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs.
Several local leaders took to social media in response to the measure.
— Mayor Kincannon (@MayorKincannon) July 1, 2020
So glad Knox County followed the lead of the City of Knoxville on smart policy to keep us safer! https://t.co/G7TVgJYmjt
— Gloria Johnson (@VoteGloriaJ) July 2, 2020
Whether you think a mask should be worn or not is another debate. Do you realize an unelected health board, at the objection of our County Mayor, just forced you to wear a mask anywhere in Knox County? This is an unenforceable mandate by a board that is not accountable to anyone!
— Rep. Jason Zachary (@JasonZacharyTN) July 1, 2020