NEWPORT—Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger declared a State of Emergency in the county Wednesday afternoon due concerns over the Coronavirus.
The mayor was joined by other county and city officials to discuss an emergency order that closely follows guidelines set forth by Governor Bill Lee and President Donald Trump.
The order closes all nonessential businesses across the county starting April 3 at 5 p.m. The order will remain in place until April 14 at 11:59 p.m.
Mayor Ottinger stressed that this declaration was being made to help the county, not cause panic.
“Today I have declared a local State of Emergency for Cocke County. This was not done out of panic or to cause panic,” Ottinger said.
“This declaration will provide the county with the opportunity to qualify for loans and or grants and to possibly be reimbursed for expenditures related to the COVID-19 outbreak. This declaration also paves the way to allow for local emergency orders, which I have also put into place today.
“Emergency Order 1 is similar to Governor Lee’s Executive Order, but will allow local enforcement for those not following it. It will go into effect Friday, April 3 at 5 p.m. and remain in effect until April 14 at 11:59 p.m.
Emergency Order 1 is in accordance with the provisions set in place by the State and the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America.
Residents of Cocke County shall not participate in social gatherings of 10 people or more. They are also not allowed to eat or drink onsite at restaurants, bars or similar food and drink establishments. All restaurants and bars should only offer drive-thru, pickup, carryout or delivery services.
Citizens are also not allowed to visit gyms or exercise centers.
Residents are not allowed to visit nursing homes, retirement homes or long-term care facilities unless the resident is receiving end-of-life care.
Businesses that do not perform “Essential Services” shall not be open for access or use by the public.
The list of Essential Services includes health care and public health operations, human services operations, infrastructure operations, essential government functions, food and medicine stores, food an beverage production and agriculture, organizations that provide charitable and social services, religious and ceremonial functions, media, gas stations, financial institutions and insurance entities, hardware and supply stores, critical trades, mail including delivery and pick-up services, restaurants for off-premises consumption, home-based care services, residential facilities and shelters, professional services, hotel and motels and funeral services.
Residents should only perform essential activities, which are considered “essential to a person’s health and safety or the health and safety of family or household members.”
“It is not the goal of Cocke County Government to cite, fine or arrest anyone. However, the longer people continue to go without complying the farther federal, state and now local governments are going to have to extend it and that is not fair to the businesses that have already been and continue to remain closed,” Ottinger said.
“This is not a lockdown or martial law. However, you are safer at home during this time and we ask that you stay home in you are not out for an Essential Activity or Service. For those of you who are unsure of what those activities and services are please refer to the Governor’s Order. The orders will be available as soon as possible on the County website as well as the Cocke County COVID-19 Facebook page, which you do not have to have Facebook to access.
“These are difficult times and our normal lives have been disrupted. There is no silver bullet or magic wand that our government can utilize to end the COVID-19 outbreak. We cannot govern our lives back to normal, but we can each, individually, take responsibility for our actions and follow the orders and guidelines in place.”
City of Newport Mayor Roland “Trey” Dykes, III said there is a lot of work left to do concerning the pandemic.
He said the county and country is currently undergoing something that has never been experienced. He hopes the enforcement of these guidelines will help keep citizens safe.
“Things are moving very rapidly and the plans and procedures we are putting in place today are things we need to accomplish to help save lives. The policies are significant, but they are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. These practices have been proven to work. Wash your hands and keep a safe distance.
“I would like to make the point that Newport and Cocke County have been relatively fortunate to this point. I hope our low case count hasn’t lulled anyone into a sense of complacency. There will be other confirmed cases at some point, so continue to do the things that are put in place and that are recommended.”
Maurice Shults, Chief of Police for the City of Newport, said his department and the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office are ready to issue citations to nonessential businesses that do not comply with the governor’s mandates.
“I want to assure the citizens of Newport that the decision to unify our efforts with the Attorney General’s office and Sheriff’s Office is not a Safer At Home mandate, but it is to follow the direction of Governor Lee to address those who are failing to follow those orders,” Shults said.
“While we work together to address the safety or our citizens and stem the spread of COVID-19, we especially want to insure the basic liberties of the citizens of the City of Newport, Cocke County, Tennessee and the United States of America are protected. It is our hope that this announcement will help those who have been mandated to close to see it is a necessity and join with us in closing those businesses.
“If you have failed to comply with Governor Lee’s orders effective at 5 p.m. Friday, we will be in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office, issuing citations to those businesses under the governor’s orders. It is not his mandate that we enforce the law, but he has set forth the mandate for those who should be staying home.”
Sheriff Armando Fontes took the time to thank citizens who have been compliant with the governor’s orders to this point. He said everyone should be taking the pandemic serious. He said his office has been compliant with all of the mandates set in place, but new ones have been issued.
“These executive orders are important, and they were developed by the professionals that understand what is going on. All of the decisions we have made have not been made lightly. Our actions are for the safety and wellbeing of all Cocke County’s citizens.
“We are asking all nonessential businesses to comply with the orders and as things progress we will release more information. We will be enforcing compliance. By working together and following the guidelines we will have long-term success for our community. Things are contingent upon everyone doing their part.”
To date only one individual in Cocke County has contracted the Coronavirus. According to the TN Department of Health, 40 tests have been administered in Cocke County, all coming back negative for the virus.
Local health care providers do have tests available, as does the Cocke County Health Department.
Ottinger said that rapid result tests were sent out Wednesday, and said they should be in the hands of local health care workers soon.
She said that people experiencing symptoms should call their health care provider to discuss their symptoms before seeking treatment.
“For anyone that thinks they need testing, calling before doing anything is the best and safest thing for everybody,” Ottinger said.
“You can call the Health Department of your primary care physician. If your symptoms are severe feel free to call the emergency room at the hospital. From my understanding there is testing at each location, and those individuals can give more directives.
“Tests are still limited and we want to make sure those that need a test get one. People will receive directives on the best way to receive a test so that they are not potentially infecting others.”