(Updates with Hutto clarification that mask wearing only a recommendation.)
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto has declared a State of Emergency for the county effective and is recommending that all residents to wear a mask in public the death total from COVID-19 in the county increased from eight to 15 in the past two weeks.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the Unified Command Group, which oversees the state’s ongoing coronavirus response efforts, identified Wilson and Hamblen counties as new COVID-19 hot spots because of a rise in virus cases and deaths.
Wilson County reported its first case mid-March and surpassed 100 cases on April 7. On May 23, Wilson County reported 343 cases, which has jumped to 649 cases as of June 23.
Hutto said on June 1, the 14-day average daily number for new cases was 6.9, which increased to 11.4 per day by June 23 and has continued to rise for seven days in a row.
Hutto also noted the county went 25 days — May 12 to June 5 — with no increase in the county’s eight deaths related to the virus, but said the death toll has jumped to 15 people in the last 14 days.
Hutto’s declaration, along with the Tennessee Department of Health’s declaration of Wilson County as a hot spot, are largely designed to reinforce CDC and Tennessee Pledge guidance involving social distancing, frequent hand-washing, wearing facial coverings and remaining at home if anyone feels sick or unusual. Unlike earlier state of emergency declarations that mirrored Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders, Hutto’s declaration does not place limitations on gathering, close nonessential businesses or set a penalty for noncompliance.
Capt. Tyler Chandler of the Mt. Juliet Police Department and Lt. Scott Moore of the Wilson County Sheriff's Office, said they would continue to gather information about Hutto’s declaration, but have not been made aware if their department has a role in enforcing the declaration.
“We want people to stay safe as they resume activities,” Hutto said. “We ask all our businesses to take this very seriously to keep their customers and staff safe by reconsidering the number of people in the business area and by requiring masks in stores and businesses.”
A few hours after issuing the declaration, Hutto's office issued a clarification: "We have received many calls about the word 'required' in our press
release earlier today. We do not have the authority to require anybody to wear a mask nor will anybody be arrested for not wearing a mask. We strongly encourage people to wear masks because of the increase in number of COVID-19 cases and rise in deaths in Wilson County.
Masks are available at the Wilson County Health Department located at 927 East Baddour Parkway in Lebanon. The Health Department can be reached at (615) 444-5325 and it is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
“There is no strict criteria of what defines a “hot spot”, just a general uptick in disease transmission. State and local public health closely monitor these trends in their communities and statewide. Every case is investigated and contacts informed of their possible exposures,” Tennessee Department of Health associate director of communications Bill Christian said. “If there is an outbreak in a high-risk setting, such as congregate living or workplace setting, then public health officials often perform additional education and guidance around preventing further disease transmission.”
Piercey said the department would work with county leaders to develop and implement plans to reduce the daily number of new cases.
Christian said the plans could include increased public messaging, outreach and coordination with local community and population groups, and increasing testing access and availability.
“The hot spots should be a reminder that Tennesseans need to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes wearing a mask when in public, observing proper distances between individuals in social settings, washing hands frequently, and minimizing trips and contact with others,” Christian said.