Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson has issued an executive order to reinstate Williamson County's mask mandate through Oct. 30, but added in a Thursday news conference that he expects to extend the mandate through the remainder of 2020.
The mandate will take effect on Saturday, Oct. 24, at 12:01 a.m. and will continue through 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 30, which is when Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 63 is set to expire.
Anderson said that the governor’s office has announced that they anticipate extending the authority through the end of the calendar year, at which point Anderson said that he will follow that authority and extend the Williamson County mandate through the end of 2020.
“I appreciate the governor giving us the tools to address this issue without forcing a one-size-fits-all state-wide order," Anderson said, speaking at the Williamson County Public Safety Center in Franklin Thursday morning.
"I believe local government is best positioned to make these decisions, even when they are difficult. At the end of the day, I believe this order is in the best interest of our community. No one likes the fact that it is necessary to reinstitute a mask mandate in our county. Unfortunately, the numbers can’t be ignored."
While those who violate the mandate could be charged with a class A misdemeanor, Anderson said that local law enforcement will take a softer approach to enforcement, leaning more heavily toward education than on issuing fines. Anderson noted as well that not a single citation was issued during the county's previous mask mandate.
Anderson spoke to the rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout the state and the county as the primary reason for the measure.
"It's unfortunate that our state is continuing to see a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations... if these trends continue, we could experience bed-capacity issues in certain parts of the state as well as in our own county," Anderson said.
"We all need beds and available staff in our hospitals not only to care for COVID patients, but to care for those experiencing heart attacks, strokes, injuries and other kinds of issues that may require entrance into the ER or stay in our hospitals."
When asked what his message was to Williamson residents who oppose such a mandate, Anderson said that at the end of the day, it was simply a matter of public safety.
"There's always controversy on [a mask mandate], but all of us have one thing in mind: It provides safety and security for our residents, school children, to myself," Anderson said. "This cloth has become way too political. It's an instrument, a tool that helps people rather than it being a divisive piece of cloth."
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore also spoke at the press conference, and applauded Anderson's decision to impose a mask mandate.
"This is an important step to protect the health of our community, particularly the elderly and the immune-suppressed, but also an opportunity to continue to protect our first responders and health care providers," Moore said.
"This novel virus is causing death in our community, but it also is causing significant morbidity, which will be the long-term effect of it. We're also seeing significant mental health issues increasing in our communities, not to mention the economic impact this has had."
Brentwood Mayor Rhea Little spoke in support of the mandate as well, championing it as just one tool in the fight against COVID-19.
"In the words of [Winston] Churchill, this may not be the beginning of the end, but only the end of the beginning because history tells us and science is telling us that this COVID-19 war may last for a long time," Little said.
"I think the masks are one weapon, [and] are very important as we continue to fight this battle. I just think the mandate makes it more forward in people's minds about what we're up against."
The mandate does not apply to children 12-years-old and under, but those exceptions do not apply to children on school property or at school functions.
WEMA also released a COVID-19 Toolkit today which includes social media graphics, decision trees, slideshows and flyers.
The toolkit has information on safety measures, decision making regarding social events and more which can be found here.
A local, Williamson County COVID-19 hotline number will also be available beginning Monday, Oct. 25, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. for any questions or concerns at (615)595-4880.
For more information on Lee’s executive orders and statewide COVID-19 numbers, visit https://covid19.tn.gov/.