By MARINA WATERS
It’s been over a week since Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy issued an executive order requiring that the citizens of Tennessee’s oldest county wear masks in public places. Now Grandy says he’s hoping the increased number of citizens covering their noses and mouths can help decrease the county’s increased number of positive COVID-19 cases.
“People have embraced it,” Grandy said. “There is a lot more facial coverage usage than there was a week ago which is really great news I think.”
Grandy made the executive order announcement at the courthouse on Monday, July 13, following Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order No. 54 order authorizing Tennessee mayors without locally run health departments to issue mandates “requiring or recommending the wearing of face coverings in public for the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.”
For Grandy, the increased number of cases in the county convinced the county mayor to go ahead with the mask requirement.
“There’s a capacity of beds that are designated for COVID because they have to be isolated,” Grandy said. “We went from nine (new cases) to 17 last week to 45 this past Monday. That’s where I just drew the line and said, ‘We doubled. Four more weeks of this we’re out of capacity. It’s time to do something.’ That was what led me to the decision to act on the governor’s order.”
At press time for the Herald & Tribune, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, there are 129 new cases since Thursday in Washington County.
As for the Town of Jonesborough, which, along with Johnson City, is required to follow the county wide mandate, Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said precautions are also being taken throughout town hall and other Jonesborough buildings to cut down on exposure.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re encouraging (following the mask order) as much as we can and try to set the examples ourselves,” Vest said. “We think we had a good plan initially just keeping things as sanitized as possible.”
He also said local businesses are to follow the mandate and that the town’s public safety departments have specifically taken steps to stay healthy.
“We are being a little bit more careful in public safety areas, things like that because we can’t afford to have a whole department shut down,” Vest said. “We’re just making sure when we have groups together that they are following those guidelines. It’s different when someone works by themselves or are at a greater distance from someone.”
Grandy said he hopes the idea of “wearing is caring” throughout the county can encourage folks to take the mandate seriously. The main goal, he said, is to keep the number of the county’s hospitalizations down.
“If we can begin to see hospital patients for COVID stabilize and then decline, it will be a huge success,” Grandy said. “That’s really the driving factor. If we are not able to catch this thing now and we get hospitals at capacity, unfortunately you begin to look at some of these emergency plans that were built in March that we haven’t utilized. We could pull them off the shelf. We don’t want to be there.”
Looking ahead, Grandy said he feels it is imperative for the county to get a handle on the virus situation, specifically before schools followed by colleges are reopened.
“It’s about trying to get healthy and squared away. In two weeks we will have kids going back to school. Then in another two weeks we’ve got all these folks coming back to our college campuses. We need to be in a good place I think before we are going to be doing things that have the potential to get a bunch of people sick.”
For more information on COVID-19 as it relates to Washington County, go to http://www.washingtoncountytn.org/node/438. To stay updated on the number of cases in the region, go to https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html.