As cases of the coronavirus climb statewide, local leaders across Tennessee are wrestling with how to reduce the spread, and reacting to limitations that prevent them from mandating masks like in Nashville.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger tells the Times Free Press he’s been hesitant about pandemic mandates — hoping residents would willingly abide by guidelines — but that he is considering his options.
And last week, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke asked the state for mandate power after his city was ranked second on a New York Times list of places with the highest average daily growth rate for COVID-19 deaths.
Mayors in Rutherford County and its independent cities say they’ve also received calls, emails and social media requests to follow Nashville’s lead in issuing a mask mandate.
But it’s not that simple.
The governor’s office says officials in those areas wouldn’t have the power to enforce mandates. Hamilton and Rutherford are not among the six counties in Tennessee with their own health departments to issue orders.
Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland acknowledges in a news release that his office cannot enforce a public health order “stricter than, or in any way different from, the Governor’s order.”
La Vergne Mayor Jason Cole says the dramatic rise in cases shows residents aren’t ready for “business as usual,” and encourages them to take the precautions recommended by public health experts.
Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed says she understands people’s desire to regain some sense of normalcy, but she says, “it’s going to take everyone doing their part.”
Wilson County’s mayor also issued a strongly worded mask message, but later noted the limits of his powers.
A report last week showed Tennessee among the states with the lowest levels of mask wearing, with fewer than one in five residents wearing one in public.