COCKE COUNTY—The COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the country and state, and Cocke County is no exception.

Recently, the case count has started to increase by double digits almost daily.

Gov. Bill Lee recently decided that mayors across the state should make the final decision on whether face coverings or masks should be mandatory for residents while in public.

Several counties including Knox and Sevier have now made masks mandatory.

Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger made the decision on Thursday that masks will not be mandatory.

She does however encourage the usage of masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Ottinger released the following statement concerning her decision on masks.

“Most of you all know that Governor Lee delegated the decision of whether or not to mandate face coverings to the county mayors in the 89 counties with a state affiliated health department.

This has not been an easy decision nor as you know a hasty one. I have weighed all aspects of the issue, spoken with health professionals, asked for citizen feedback, heard from businesses and carefully considered how best to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is a fact that Governor Lee did grant limited authority to county mayors to mandate and require face coverings in public. However, it also specifically states that any local order or measures issued by a county mayor be consistent with CDC guidance.

I have checked with the CDC, The U.S. Surgeon General and The Tennessee Department of Health, all qualified medical entities, and none of them have required face coverings.

I have made the decision that I will not require that face coverings be worn in public.

I do not have a right to mandate an individual's decision regarding their health.

It is an over reach of authority from the government and an individual’s health should be left up to them.

I can tell you that your federal, state or local government cannot mandate, order or will this virus away. It is going to take all of us, as individuals, making a concentrated effort to put our safety and the safety of others at the forefront.

There is not a consensus on anything related to this pandemic from how numbers are calculated, to the origin of it, or to rights of an individual versus public health rights.

There is however, one constant in this situation and that is that we are 100 percent in this together and together our cases will rise or together we can assist in slowing the spread.

With that said, I strongly encourage and respectfully ask that everyone who can and will to please wear a mask in public.

I ask that businesses consider special hours for people who are wearing masks. I implore that everyone, residents and visitors alike, do all that they can to mitigate the spread of the virus.

I have executed a memorandum that has an effective date through August 3, 2020, the same as the Governor’s order. I will continue to monitor our cases, which are rising daily, and adjust course and speed as necessary.

There has never been a better time to ‘Love thy Neighbor’ and you can do so by wearing a mask.”

The governor and CDC’s guidelines ask that businesses and industries develop and implement their own localized plan for face coverings.

Plans may be as simple as signage requiring or recommending employees and patrons wear face coverings when entering each location.

If there is a requirement to wear a face covering it will be up to the individual business or industry to enforce its local plan as it sees fit.

Persons are strongly urged to wear face coverings in public places.

Per the CDC guidelines it is recommended persons wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who do not live in their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Governor Lee’s Executive Order #54 and CDC guidance says there should be no requirements that a face covering be worn if:

• Within one’s residence or automobile, unless transporting others for hire

• By a child twelve (12) years or younger

• By someone who has trouble breathing due to an underlying health condition or another bona fide medical or health-related reason for not wearing a face covering; By someone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance

• While eating or drinking

• While outdoors, unless the person cannot substantially maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside of the person’s household

• While working under conditions where appropriate social distancing from others outside of 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 unless required by that house of worship, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged

• While in a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged.

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