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Mask mandates end, but officials encourage public to continue observing safety protocols

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely joined with neighboring county mayors in lifting mask mandates that have been used to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

With the mandate set to expire on Feb. 20, Evely, along with Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby, released a joint statement on Friday, Feb. 19, calling for an end of the mask mandates that have been in place in the three counties.

“Our citizens have demonstrated that they can and will protect their neighbors by wearing face coverings where physical distancing is not possible,” the press release said.
Although the mandate is lifted in these three counties, the community is still encouraged to wear their masks when physical distancing is not an option.

“Continuing to wear a face covering voluntarily will help keep our schools and businesses open,” the three mayors stated in the release. “Getting vaccinated is also instrumental into stopping the spread of COVID-19. We need to continue to work together, support and protect each other as we move forward.”

Many facilities and private businesses will still require a mask to enter their premises and the mayors ask that citizens respect these requests.

Ballad Health released its own statement following the one issued by the three county leaders suspending mask mandates.

“With the relatively recent reduction in cases, decisions by some elected leaders to lift mask requirements in their jurisdictions is not unexpected,” the release states. “Ballad Health certainly appreciates county leaderships’ responsiveness to their constituents’ desires, especially as they strive to find balance with public health recommendations. These are still challenging times, and no decisions are made lightly. However, even without mask mandates in place, Ballad Health urges everyone in the Appalachian Highlands to take personal responsibility for their roles in continuing this decline in regional COVID-19 cases. This includes making the choice to protect themselves and those around them from potential virus spread by avoiding unnecessary crowds and wearing masks in public — even if they’re not required.”

Ballad Health released its latest numbers on Monday, Feb. 22. The release shows that cases in Ballad facilities continue to trend downward. According to Ballad’s scorecard, there were 85 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and of those 15 patients were in the ICU and 11 were on ventilators. There were 45 COVID-19 deaths in Ballad facilities over the last seven days and Ballad currently has a 12.2 percent positivity rate.

As of Monday, Feb 22, Unicoi County had 48 active cases of COVID-19. According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, there have been 47 deaths related to COVID-19 in Unicoi County.

In Northeast Tennessee, as of Feb. 22, Washington County has 214 active positive cases of COVID-19 with 230 related deaths. Sullivan County has 353 active cases and 271 reported deaths. Greene County has 113 active cases and 143 deaths. Hawkins County has 177 active cases and 92 deaths. Carter County has 106 active cases and 151 deaths, while Johnson County is reporting 13 active cases of COVID-19 and 37 deaths.

There have been 643,282 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and 8,974 deaths as a result of the virus in the State of Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

According to the CDC, as of Monday, the United States has had 27,938,085 positive cases and 497,415 deaths due to COVID-19 since Jan. 21, 2020.

As of Monday, Feb. 22, 1,111,118 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Tennessee. In Unicoi County, 17.48 percent of the population has received a first dose and 12.06 percent of the population has received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available.