As the coronavirus outbreak continues to escalate across the state, infecting and sickening more people than ever, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger on Monday issued a face mask mandate.
The order by the Hamilton County Health Department–at the direction of Coppinger–goes into effect on July 10 at 12:01 a.m., and requires masks or facial coverings be worn over the mouth and nose “at all times when indoors in all public and private buildings and when outdoors.”
The mandate ends Sept. 8.
Both active infections and hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past month, and Tennessee set records for new infections and new hospitalizations on multiple occasions over the past week.
“Obviously, this was an extremely difficult decision, and it’s not a comfortable position to be in, but we know it’s the right thing to do,” Coppinger said Monday during a press conference at the Hamilton County Health Department’s Golley Auditorium.
“None of us should stand by and allow this horrific virus to spread throughout our cities and counties and neighborhoods and families. Let’s protect each other by wearing these face coverings and masks.”
Exceptions to the order include children under 12, people with certain existing respiratory conditions and people with mental or hearing challenges and people seated at a restaurant for dining.
Additionally, people gathered in a house of worship that does not require face coverings and people in their homes are generally exempt, but not in the common areas of apartments and condominium complexes.
While outdoors, masks are not required unless people are unable to “maintain appropriate social distancing.” However, coverings should be accessible in case of an encounter with a larger group.
Businesses are required to follow the order and to post signs warning patrons that failure to follow the mask mandate are subject to civil and criminal penalties.
Hamilton County Schools facilities are exempt from the order and subject to policies set by the Department of Education. In addition, polling places are exempt from turning people away due to lack of masks.
Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said noncompliance with the mandate could result in a Class C misdemeanor.
“A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a $50 fine or 30 days incarcerated for anyone who has violated this,” Taylor said. Research shows that widespread use of face coverings reduces the spread of infected respiratory droplets, which minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Hamilton County joins several other neighboring counties that have released mask requirements, including Davidson, Knox, Madison,Williamson, Wilson and Shelby.
City of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who has long advocated for a mask mandate, championed the county mayor’s announcement.
“Mayor Coppinger issued a mask mandate today, the right move for our area,” Berke said.
Free face coverings are available at the Hamilton County Health Department, 921 E. 3rd St. Tubs of face coverings are located at both circle entrances.
For further details, call the COVID-19 Hotline at 423-209-8383.