Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Friday granting the mayors of 89 counties the authority to issue local face mask mandates.
Six Tennessee counties – Sullivan, Knox, Hamilton, Davidson, Madison, and Shelby – have local health departments, and therefore already have the authority to issue mask requirements as needed, Lee’s office explained.
The Metro Nashville and Davidson County Board of Health voted June 26 in favor of requiring residents to wear masks in public places.
Under ordinary circumstances, the remaining 89 counties don’t have the authority to issue such requirements because they don’t operate local health departments.
Lee’s Executive Order 54 grants the mayors of those counties the authority to issue local mask requirements in the event of a significant rise in COVID-19 cases.
“While our densely populated urban areas continue to have the highest COVID-19 case rates, our local governments expressed a need for greater flexibility in addressing a rise in cases and that includes setting stronger expectations around masks,” Lee said in a statement.
“This targeted approach ensures we protect both lives and livelihoods and safely keep our economy open in Tennessee. We encourage every Tennessean across the state to use a face covering or mask, make sure to socially distance and wash hands frequently,” he added.
The executive order requires counties to include a number of exemptions, such as for children under the age of 12 or people who have trouble breathing because of underlying health conditions.
Lee has strongly encouraged Tennesseans to wear face masks, recently launching a “TN Strong Mask Movement,” but has refrained from issuing a statewide mask mandate.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued a statewide mask mandate Thursday. The order requires Texans in counties with more than 20 cases to wear a mask while in confined public places.
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