All Sumner County residents and visitors, with some exceptions, are now required to wear a face covering or mask when in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The order, which became effective Tuesday, was issued by Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt following discussions with local health officials along with other city and county leaders.
“We are currently experiencing a public health emergency,” Holt said during a press conference announcing the mandate Monday. “If community action is not taken, the spread of this virus will continue to intensify, and our daily activities will be impacted. If we don’t take these steps, we may end up where we started with businesses closing which in turn will have a devastating effect on our family and our ability to earn a living.”
Within the last two weeks there have been nearly 450 new coronavirus cases across Sumner County – more than double the amount of the previous two-week period, according to data provided by Sumner County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The county is now averaging 41 new cases per day.
There had been a total of 1,670 cases of COVID-19 reported countywide along with 53 deaths and 670 recoveries as of Tuesday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Statewide, there had been 53,116 confirmed cases, 640 confirmed deaths and 31,837 recoveries.
On Friday, Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order that gave 89 county mayors across the state the authority to issue local face covering requirements. The remaining six counties with locally run health departments – Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan – already had the authority to issue similar mandates.
Face coverings can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by blocking respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, according to Greg Miller, chief of Sumner County EMS.
“I personally do not know of an individual that has contracted the virus while wearing a face covering,” Miller said Monday. “I also do not know of a person who has spread the virus while wearing a face covering.
“This (order) will help slow the spread to where those… that we love can stay healthy and we can turn back to the life that we knew before COVID-19.”
Protestors say requirement is unconstitutional
Approximately two dozen people gathered outside the Sumner County Administration Building in Gallatin to protest the order Tuesday afternoon.
“We have watched our constitutional liberties erode for too long,” organizer JT Olsen said. “I don’t feel like government has the right, which I know that don’t have the right, to force me to wear any type of garment on my body. This is just one small symptom of a bigger issue.
“I would like Mr. Holt to (retract) his order and follow the constitution.”
According to the order, face coverings should not be placed on children younger than two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing or anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Face coverings also do not have to be worn within a person’s residence or automobile, unless transporting others for hire; by children 12 years old or younger; while eating or drinking, while outdoors, unless the person cannot substantially maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside the person’s household; while working under conditions where appropriate social distancing from others outside the person’s household is substantially maintained; in situations in which wearing a face covering poses a safety or security risk; while in a house of worship; or while in a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election.
“This is probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” Holt said Monday about issuing the mandate. “I value people’s liberties and freedoms, but at the same time we have a responsibility to others in the community.”
Anyone who does not comply with the requirement could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which can be punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine and up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, according to the Sumner County District Attorney’s Office.
On Tuesday, a uniformed deputy in a Sumner County Sheriff’s Office patrol car began handing out free masks at Gallatin High School, Merrol Hyde Magnet School, Portland East Middle School and New Hope Church in Westmoreland from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. The effort will continue throughout the week with updated times and locations to be announced on the department’s Facebook page.
“If we find someone who does not have a mask on, our deputies are going to… offer one to them,” Sumner County Sheriff Sonny Weatherford said about enforcement Monday. “If someone will not go along with the (the order), we will write a citation, but that will be a last resort.”
The executive order requiring face coverings or masks be worn in public in Sumner County must be reissued every seven days. It is intended to remain in effect until at least Aug. 3, according to Holt.