Randall Hutto

Wilson County residents are now required to wear facial coverings in public after Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto reversed his previous decision and declared masks mandatory Friday.

Hutto’s mandating of masks comes just more than a week after he “strongly encouraged,” but did not mandate, facial coverings in Wilson County after Gov Bill Lee’s executive order granted county mayors the ability to mandate facial coverings July 3.

At the time, Wilson County had 999 reported cases of COVID-19, which has increased to 1,412 cases in nine days.

Hutto called the decision to mandate masks his "last resort."

Because Lee’s executive order expires Aug. 3, it will not affect the county schools unless it is extended.

Under the executive order, mayors cannot mandate facial coverings or masks in certain situations and areas, including: within a person’s residence or automobile, unless transporting others for hire; for a child 12 years or younger; for someone who has trouble breathing due to an underlying health condition or bona fide medial or health-related reason; for someone incapacitated or unable to remove the face covering without assistance; while eating or drinking; while outdoors, unless the person cannot maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside of the household; while working where social distancing from others outside of the household is substantially maintained; where the mask presents a safety or security risk; while in a house of worship unless required by that house of worship; and while in a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election.

At the end of June, Hutto issued a mandatory mask order and declared a State of Emergency in the county after virus-related deaths reportedly nearly doubled in three weeks. A few hours after issuing that order, Hutto revised the mask order to a strong recommendation because at that time he did not have the authority to make masks mandatory.

“We know that wearing a mask, diligent in hygiene and social distancing when possible are the best tools we have to prevent the community spread of the virus,” said Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital Chief Medical Officer Adam Huggins, suggesting wearing a mask would ultimately save countless lives.

“Cloth face coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling through the air onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face mask coughs, sneezes, talks or raises their voice,” WEMA Director Joey Cooper said. “This is called source control. This recommendation is based on what we know the role of respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus.”

Cooper said the mask is especially important in instances where people are in close proximity or where social distancing is difficult to maintain, particularly due to the significant number of COVID-19 positive people that are asymptomatic.

Wilson County Health Department Director Tim Diffenderfer said masks are available and free at the health department and urged residents to seek a free drive-thru COVID-19 test at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.

Testing is conducted daily from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the entrance at the Tennessee Boulevard entrance of the fairgrounds.

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