Mayor Berke seeks mask mandate as COVID-19 cases spike in Chattanooga

As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in Chattanooga, Mayor Andy Berke is seeking ways to mandate that masks be worn in public.

In Hamilton County, including Chattanooga, face masks are not required.

“Over the last few days, more people are asking me about masks, why aren’t more people wearing masks, what can be done to compel people to wear masks?” Mayor Berke said during a virtual press conference last Friday. “I know that people are worried about it, I understand why they’re worried about it, and we should all be taking this very seriously.”

Chattanooga last week landed at No. 2 on The New York Times list of places with the highest average daily growth in the COVID-19 death rate.

In announcing the June 23 COVID-19 death of a local female Hispanic under the age of 10, who had no underlying medical conditions, Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes emphasized the importance of wearing masks in public.

“We stress once again how important it is to wear a mask and practice social distancing to keep this virus from spreading,” she said. “These are simple yet necessary acts of kindness that could save a life.”

In recent weeks, Memphis and Nashville have issued mandates for wearing masks in public.

Nashville’s order went into effect on 12:01 a.m. on June 29. However, criminal and civil penalties will not be imposed until 12:01 a.m. on July 3. Under the order, residents not wearing a mask can be cited with a Class C misdemeanor.

Children 12 years or younger and those with certain medical conditions are exempt from wearing masks. Places of worship are also exempt in the Nashville order, but they are “strongly encouraged” to follow health guidelines as issued in Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order issued on May 22.

“I will tell everybody that I believe we should wear a mask when we’re out in public and the voluntary method has so far not been successful in accomplishing that,” Mayor Berke said. “That’s why you’re seeing cities across the country taking action.”

Republican Gov. Lee has not yet called for a mandate for mask-wearing in public.

“People know and have personal responsibility for whether or not they go to a bar, or whether or not they go to an event, or whether or not they wear a mask, or whether or not they wash their hands,” Gov. Lee said during a news conference last week. On Monday,  Gov. Lee extended a COVID-19 state of emergency declaration, along with a host of other provisions that were set to expire July 1. Tennessee will remain in a state of emergency until at least Aug. 29, according to the new order.

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