As Williamson County’s face mask mandate is set to take effect at midnight on Tuesday night to help combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it will be up to law enforcement officials across the county to enforce the measure.
Police say they plan to try and use encouragement and education over fines.
Mayors of six municipalities in the county acknowledged their support of County Mayor Rogers Anderson's mandate, an authority that was granted by way of an Executive Order by Governor Bill Lee on Friday.
As previously reported, mayors from Nolensville, Brentwood, Thompson's Station, Franklin, Fairview and Spring Hill all addressed their support of the measure in the midst of the public health crisis that as of Monday has seen 1,340 positive cases of COVID-19 in Williamson County and resulted in 15 deaths.
Statewide 52,155 confirmed cases have been reported with 653 deaths, numbers that nationally sit at nearly 3 million positive cases and over 128,000 deaths.
The mandate reads that violators can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which in Tennessee can result in a fine up to $2,500 or with up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, but law enforcement officials from across the county have said that this is a last resort.
According to Williamson County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sharon Puckett, WCSO will “remind people to comply with the Mayor's order,” adding that issuing a citation is a last resort taken by deputies for repeat offenders of the public health mandate.
This sentiment was echoed by Nolensville Police Chief Roddy Parker who said in a phone call that his department will follow WCSO’s lead.
Brentwood Police Department’s Assistant Chief Richard Hickey said in an email that BPD will focus on using education as a tool for compliance.
“Our focus on enforcing the mask mandate will be geared toward education and compliance. We will educate everyone about the mandate first and foremost,” Hickey said. “After education, we will issue verbal warnings. After verbal warnings, citations may be issued with a supervisor’s approval.”
Fairview Police Chief Zach Humphreys said in a phone call that this approach, which his department will also take, is the best way to gain compliance from citizens citing the use of discretion.
"If we can partner with the community and say, 'Hey, it is a mandate, we recognize that it's a mandate, and we request that you be compliant,' we think that will probably go a lot further with compliance if we take that approach and kind of partner with our community," Humphreys said.
Franklin Police Department's Chief Deborah Faulkner also echoed the role of advisement and education before citation in an email.
“We see our role first and foremost to simply advise the public of the Executive Order and ask for their compliance where needed. We will even provide face masks as we are able. Writing a citation would be the very last option for us. Our priority has been and will always be to serve the public in a professional manner, keeping them safe, and offering support during this difficult time,” Faulkner said.
WKRN reported that the Metro Nashville Police Department will be handing out printed advisories to people who are not following their face mask mandate, also in hopes of educating citizens into compliance.
Law enforcement officials across the country have been split on how to handle mask mandates that have divided many communities across political lines with some calling the mandates a violation of their rights and others peddling conspiracy theories or calling the measure another step towards totalitarianism.
Another complication to enforcing the mandate are 13 exemptions to which are detailed below.
- Children under the age of 12.
- Anyone who cannot wear face coverings due to underlying health conditions
- Anyone who cannot remove face coverings without assistance
- Anyone in a private residence
- Anyone outdoors that can properly maintain proper social distancing
- Anyone eating or drinking
- Anyone in a place of worship, unless mandated by the place of worship
- Anyone in private motor vehicles
- Anyone working in conditions where proper social distancing can be maintained
- Anyone in government facilities, who instead will be subject to rules and regulations of that specific facility
- Anyone at a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election
- Anyone engaged in exercise or physical activity, provided proper social distancing can be maintained
- Anyone for whom wearing a face covering could pose a safety or security risk
The Williamson County mandate does expire Aug. 3, although Anderson does have the ability to renew the order in the continued interest of public health as the pandemic is expected to impact the world for foreseeable future.