The Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee voted on Tuesday evening to urge the Metropolitan Public Health Department’s (MPHD) Chief Medical Director Gill Wright to reinstate a citywide mask mandate for public indoor spaces.
Councilpersons Joy Styles (District 32), Burkley Allen (At-Large), Jennifer Gamble (District 3), Sharon Hurt (At-Large) and Sandra Sepulveda (District 30) sponsored the resolution, which passed with 21 councilpersons in favor, nine opposed and five abstaining.
“If [Davidson County] were a small country, we would have been number-two in the whole world” for COVID-19 transmission, Styles said. “I think it is very evident that the data is showing us that we need to take a stand.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has, Styles noted, advised those in areas of high COVID spread to mask in public indoor places irrespective of vaccination status. Upon filing their legislation, Styles and her cosponsors indicated that there were 3,754 active cases of COVID in Davidson County as of August 12, a 38-percent jump over the prior week’s total.
The text of the resolution also mentioned that new hospital admissions in Davidson County had risen 53 percent over the previous week as of August 9. It also noted that fewer than half of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I’ve spoken with businesses in my district,” Styles added. “They have also stated—many of them—that they would like to have a mask mandate on the books from the city because the onus then is on us for the responsibility and they feel a little bit safer doing that.”
During her speech to fellow councilpersons, Styles called some of her colleagues “disrespectful” for pulling their masks down when they took the microphone to speak to the room.
Council members voting against the resolution included Tonya Hancock (District 9), Zach Young (District 10), Larry Hagar (District 11), Ginny Welsch (District 16), Freddie O’Connell (District 19), Russ Pulley (District 25), Courtney Johnston (District 26), Bob Nash (District 27) and John Rutherford (District 31). Abstaining were Nancy VanReece (District 8), Kevin Rhoten (District 14), Jeff Syracuse (District 15), Thom Druffel (District 23) and Kathleen Murphy (District 24).
Hancock, in her rebuttal to Styles, said she defers to Nashville Metropolitan Board of Health Chair Alex Jahangir, who has said that vaccination is the most important course of action for those seeking to avoid catching the novel coronavirus.
“We are not nurses; none of us are doctors,” Hancock said. “We’ve got salespeople and real estate agents, accountants and lawyers. We’ve got all sorts of folks on Council. But we’re not medical professionals, yet we do have a Department of Health.”
Nashville’s city government had stated before the passage of Styles’s resolution that it does not intend to reinstate a mask mandate and MPHD seemed unmoved by the legislation.
“We appreciate the Metro Council’s encouragement,” MPHD said in a statement. The department has focused on improving the vaccination rate. Some, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), himself a medical doctor, have argued that attempting to urge vaccination and masking at the same time could discourage those who would consider getting vaccinated if that meant a return to normal life.
Mask-wearing is nonetheless required in Davidson County government buildings and schools.
Recent research published by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) Bangladesh, which tracked mask-wearing among 340,000 adult Bangladeshis, has found mask usage to considerably reduce the spread of symptomatic COVID-19. Some previous studies looking into the issue have, however, found less utility in masking.
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