Wilson County’s government is bracing for continued impact as COVID-19 cases rise and held a discussion at Monday’s county commission meeting about next steps.

“COVID numbers have really been out of the roof lately,” Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said, referring to the number of new cases per day. “I used to worry about 60s, 70s and 80s, today my largest number was 176.”

The county’s effort to bring those numbers down is centered around the mask mandate Hutto implemented on Oct. 24. He said roughly 17% of residents being tested for the virus are positive, and the goal is to see that reduced to 5%.

As of Wednesday, the county has seen 1,362 new cases in the past two weeks, with an average of roughly 97 per day and 928 cases still active.

“We have worked hard at trying to do maybe a different message,” he said. “We feel like a lot of times people are looking at, you know, ‘It’s all about the mask.’ And it’s really not about the mask, it’s really more we’re trying to say from our office … if you get it, please don’t give it to somebody else.”

Officials are also optimistic about the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, since testing so far has reported them to be more than 90% effective at warding off infection. State Sen. Mark Pody offered a look at how they might be distributed in Tennessee.

“It’s going to be up to the governor and his team,” he said. “From what I’ve seen from the governor’s office, they want it to get to the first responders first, to make sure that the fire department and law enforcement would be distributed first. I believe that schoolteachers were going to be very high on that list, and then they were going to focus on the elderly.”

In the meantime, officials are cautiously optimistic about the local economy’s ability to weather the virus. Many individual businesses have struggled or even closed, but sales tax figures have consistently run higher than last year’s. The county-owned Farm Bureau Exposition Center has also started performing more strongly as it continues hosting events and trade shows.

“October, I was really, really proud,” Director of Marketing and Events Gayle Hibbert said. “In the middle of COVID, we actually exceeded last year’s numbers … prior to that, each month, July up until October, we’ve marked right at the half mark, just a little above or just a little below.”

The Lebanon Special School District has responded to higher case counts by moving back to a hybrid model, and Wilson County Schools has seen multiple schools shift to two-week remote learning plans in recent weeks.

“As we’re tracking it through the school system where we were really watching what was occurring last week, we’re seeing a full COVID bloom now,” Wilson County Schools Director Donna Wright said. “It’s impacting our staff, primarily. We’re maintaining student attendance but we’re really struggling as far as being able to staff our schools.”

Wright said the plan is to try and make it to Thanksgiving break so employees can focus on sanitizing the schools, and keep parents and students aware of the situation as they return.

The district will have another project to work on after commissioners approved $423,000 for roof repair at Mt. Juliet Middle School’s gymnasium.

Wright told commissioners earlier this month that the roof dates back to roughly the 1970s, and the school is dealing with leaks, wall damage and tar coming down.

The Wilson County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Dec. 21, at the Wilson County Courthouse on 228 E. Main St. in Lebanon.

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