Wilson County’s face mask mandate will continue through Sept. 30 after Gov. Bill Lee on Friday extended local authority to enforce it. Mayor Randall Hutto said he is confident about how local COVID-19 case data is trending and hopes the continued mandate will bring the numbers down further.
“It’s included in our order that if the governor extends his executive orders that we’ll do the same,” Hutto said Friday afternoon. “We hope that our numbers continue to go down, and maybe even go away before Sept. 30, which would mean we wouldn’t have to continue with a mask mandate.”
There are currently 2,764 confirmed cases in Wilson County with 719 still active. Thirty-one county residents have died as a result of the virus.
Since the mandate’s first extension on Aug. 3, Wilson County’s per day case average has decreased from 31.4 to 27.7, while the rate of positive tests has slightly increased from 9% to 9.2%. The World Health Organization recommends a 5% or lower positivity rate over two weeks as the standard for safe community reopening.
“The numbers have taken a turn downward and we’ve very pleased and encouraged by that,” Hutto said. “We don’t know for sure that the masks had anything to do with that, but it certainly runs parallel.”
Wilson County originally began mandating masks on July 20, when the county was experiencing a 39.5 per day case average and an 8.1% positive testing rate, and has continued to follow Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders regarding local authority.
Lee has refrained from issuing a statewide mask mandate, maintaining that local orders have better encouraged Tennesseans to participate. However, his administration is currently facing a lawsuit from a citizens’ group for the decision.
Citizens for Limited Government and Constitutional Integrity, along with two individuals, filed the suit in Davidson County Chancery Court Monday. Their lawsuit claims a state law dealing with the governor’s emergency powers violates multiple sections of the Tennessee Constitution, including provisions on the separation of powers.
Lee cited favorable legal opinions from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slaterty, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former state Supreme Court justice William Koch in his response the lawsuit.
“All three of those opinions have been that the decisions have been made according to the statute and the Constitution as it is, so we feel good about the decisions that we’ve made,” Lee said during a news conference held Tuesday. “I think that giving local leaders the authority to institute what’s best for their communities … it appears to be working. But mask requirements are not what has solved the problem. What’s solved the problem is behavior of Tennesseans.”