As COVID-19 cases surge in Wilson County and much of Tennessee, Mayor Randall Hutto has reinstated the countywide mask mandate. Meanwhile, Mt. Juliet Elementary School will be going on remote learning for two weeks beginning Monday because of the surge.
Announced on Thursday, the mandate went into effect today and will run at least through Oct. 30. That’s when Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order authorizing county mayors to mandate masks expires. It is widely expected that Lee will extend his order. Hutto said the county mask mandate will extend with any extension Lee makes.
Mt. Juliet Elementary will be the first Wilson County school shut down for an extended period of time because of the pandemic. Students will be on remote learning through Nov. 6.
“Due to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and mandatory quarantines, the district is using an abundance of caution in making this decision,” said Wilson County Schools spokesman Bart Barker in an email to the Democrat. “In addition, all Kids Club activities at MJE are canceled ... .”
Barker said Mt. Juliet Elementary and other district personnel will be in “direct contact with parents, teachers, staff and students with any additional special instructions and guidance during this time.”
Barker said Hutto’s mask mandate is “something that can only help our communities in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The move also drew praise from officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“First, we want to express our gratitude to Mayor Hutto for reinstating the mask mandate for Wilson County,” said VUMC spokesman John Howser in an email to the Democrat. “... Nashville’s four major hospitals issued a joint statement earlier this week seeking cooperation from citizens throughout the region regarding masking, social distancing (avoiding crowds) and appropriate hand hygiene. These simple steps reamain our best defense.”
Howser said Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital housed 12 COVID-19 patients as of Friday morning, with two of those receiving “ICU level support.”
“Like our downtown campus, VWCH established a dedicated COVID unit to aggregate and care for these patients in the most effective and efficient manner, and has recently expanded the unit,” Howser said. “They are opening more rooms as needed.”
According to the state Department of Health, Wilson County has had 4,455 COVID cases, with 409 of those cases active as of Thursday. Fifty-five Wilson Countians have died.
Wilson County’s first mask mandate was issued on July 17, when the 14-day case average was 40.4 per 100,000. By Sept. 25, the 14-day case average had decreased to 22.1 cases per day, according to a news release from the county, which said the decline demonstrates the effectiveness of masks. The previous mandate was lifted on Sept. 30, but since then the average has risen, hitting 45.4 on Monday.
That day, Hutto participated in a virtual meeting with Lee and other county mayors, during which Lee said that several counties, including Wilson, were “hot spots,” according to the news release. The surge, combined with the fact that hospitalizations in the state had risen by 30% since Oct. 1, prompted Lee to “highly encourage” mayors of counties considered hot spots to issue mandates.
“Wilson County is made up of extraordinary individuals that put others before themselves in the most difficult of circumstances,” Hutto said in the release. “By continuing to use preventative measures, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect one another.”
The release said Hutto consulted with the mayors of Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown, the school superintendents, VWCH, WEMA and others before issuing his order.
Dr. Todd Rice, director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at VUMC, said the mask mandate will help, not only with COVID but with the flu season.
“It’s pretty consistent from multiple studies that masks reduce transmission,” Rice told the Democrat, adding that a “side benefit” could be a reduction in the spread of seasonal flu.
That’s important, because people who get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time are more likely to get more seriously ill, he said. In addition to wearing a mask, Rice also recommended getting a flu shot.
Rice said Vanderbilt doctors are having success with a treatment regimen that includes the antiviral medicine remdesivir, which the FDA formally approved Thursday, and the steroid dexamethasone.
“This is proving effective, but it still isn’t a cure for everybody,” he said. “We are still seeing people die and get really sick.