COVID 19 masks

Shoppers wearing masks head to the Foothills Plaza Kroger Marketplace on Thursday. Amid COVID-19 concerns, many residents are stepping up their precautions. Area governments including Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County are not requiring employees to wear masks, but say everyone should do so if possible.

On the heels of Knox County’s mandated mask policies in government and public spaces, Blount’s governments say there are no immediate plans to mandate face covers for employees or the public.

Representatives for Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County governments told The Daily Times on Thursday they will not require masks in government buildings or in public spaces at this time.

Citing the social distancing standards put in place since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, leaders indicated they are currently not going further with restrictions in government buildings.

Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County employees were not required to wear masks as of Thursday, though officials said if the situation evolves, that may change.

Currently, county government is “distributing masks to anyone who needs one,” according to an email from County Mayor Ed Mitchell.

Maryville officials said only emergency response employees are required to wear masks right now in some situations and they are letting plexiglass barriers suffice for other public interactions.

At the city of Alcoa, employees are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks if they are interacting with the public.

No government employee has tested positive for COVID-19 since its onset in the county, spokeswomen for all three governments confirmed.

“The local health departments are in constant contact with their local county governments, community partners and citizens,” Blount County Health Department Director Robert Schmidt told The Daily Times in an email. “(It) continues to recommend wearing a face mask as well as practicing social distancing to help to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Regardless of what the Health Department recommends, city officials insisted they do not have the power to enforce face coverings in government and public spaces like Knox County began doing this week.

“As mayor, I do not have the authority to implement or enforce any kind of mask mandate at this time,” Mitchell emailed. “Because Blount is not one of Tennessee’s six metro counties with its own public health official, those decisions must be made at the state level.”

He added enforcing a mask requirement would be extremely difficult, and emphasized an effective response to the pandemic will depend on “public participation.”

“It should not take a mandate for people to make decisions that benefit public health and safety,” Mitchell wrote. “I strongly urge our citizens to wear masks while in public, especially those who are in a high-risk category.”

Schmidt’s advice mirrored Mitchell’s and that of Maryville and Alcoa leaders.

“(We) encourage everyone to wear a cloth face mask or facial covering,” he wrote, speaking for the local Health Department and adding that masks are not a substitute for staying 6 feet apart and practicing good hygiene.

Masks are available at the Blount Health Department.

As of Thursday, nearly 30 states had laws requiring masks to be worn in public either by nearly everyone in all public spaces — where social distancing isn’t possible — or at least by all business and government employees.

Tennessee is not one of those states, though many cities and counties are adopting mask laws with some variation regarding where they need to be worn and by whom.

Though Blount government and many businesses do not enforce mask-wearing in public places, groups have evolved on social media to track and list what institutions are requiring masks and whether or not mask policies are being followed.

Follow @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter for more from city government reporter Andrew Jones.

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