Some Middle Tennessee counties, including Rutherford and Williamson, are letting their mask mandates expire, following a recent plunge in new and active cases.
But the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has warned against easing pandemic restrictions until numbers are far lower, and some counties to continue holding out.
Rutherford County’s mayor has set an end date for the order there, though in his announcement, Bill Ketron acknowledged the continued danger of the coronavirus, cautioning that “we are not out of the woods yet.” But he said that starting March 15, the county would be depending on residents to voluntarily follow public health recommendations to keep six feet of distance, avoid crowds and wear face coverings.
Neighboring Williamson County’s mandate expired over the weekend.
But other counties are hoping to get more people vaccinated against the virus before they do away with one of the only measures local authorities are allowed to enact.
Wilson County’s masking order automatically renews anytime the governor extends the statewide policy that gives mayors the authority to implement them. Mayor Randall Hutto says the last time the mandate expired, cases of COVID-19 increased, but since reinstating it, infections have gone down significantly.
He says these days he’s “focused quite a bit on the vaccines.” The same goes for Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt. He says about 15% of the population there has some degree of immunity to the virus either from catching it and recovering or from getting vaccinated. But he tells WPLN that number needs to get closer to 50% before the county can begin its return to normalcy.
Holt says on a personal level he understands that masks can be inconvenient, but that they’re a proven tool for reducing the spread.
“We want to make sure that we respect other people and do our part individually to make sure that we fight this virus,” Holt says, “that we actually keep people safe, and in the end we prevail with the minimum loss of life.”
Montgomery County has extended its mask mandate through March 27. A spokesman says Mayor Jim Durrett is continuing to attend weekly meetings about the pandemic and monitoring both viral trends and the vaccine rollout. He will decide later this month whether the county continues requiring masks.
WPLN’s Nina Cardona contributed to this report.