With Hamilton County reporting over 250 new COVID-19 cases daily, Mayor Jim Coppinger announced during a news conference last Thursday that the countywide mask mandate would be extended to Jan. 15.
The mask mandate first went into effect July 10, and was set to expire on Nov. 22.
“I have people telling me that they want me to enforce it,” Coppinger noted. “We’ve said this from the beginning. We don’t want this thought of as something punitive. We only want it to have to deal with the people who are not in compliance.”
Coppinger stated that Hamilton County has experienced 129 deaths from COVID-19 since March and is currently at a testing positivity rate of approximately 14 percent, or more than double that reported at his most recent news conference in October.
Thanking health department workers for their efforts in combatting COVID-19, Coppinger pointed out that many healthcare professionals were in the room for the press conference, but many more weren’t able to attend due to being “too busy fighting the virus.”
Coppinger was asked how individuals who do not comply with the mask mandate will be handled.
“As we get reports, we go out and speak with them and try to get them to come into compliance,” he explained. “Our intent was never to get you in court. We just want you to be in compliance.”
Coppinger framed the mask mandate renewal as a means to protect the county’s citizens, economy and schools–as well as a way to recover a sense of normalcy.
“The mask is not just to protect you from someone, it’s to protect others from you as well,” he said.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson indicated that a variety of measures have been put in place to fight the spread of coronavirus in the district.
“If COVID is in our community, it’s in our schools,” Dr. Johnson said. “We have tried to be fully transparent. Every decision we make is about the children.”
Recommendations will be made after Thanksgiving break as to how schools will proceed for the rest of the semester, Superintendent Johnson said.
“Our teachers, our principals, our staff and obviously medical professionals will guide us.”
Citing a recent Vanderbilt University study which shows how much lower COVID case counts are in counties with mandates, Mayor Coppinger urged local residents to not only work together by following mask mandates and social distancing guidelines, but to also respect the severity of the impact of the deadly virus.
“We are relying on the public to help us in this fight to minimize the spread,” Coppinger said. “We do know from the experts and science that it’s airborne. So it only stands to reason that this is going to offer a good deal of protection.”
In March, Coppinger and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced the formation of the COVID-19 Joint Task Force to help coordinate the city and county’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.