(TNS) - Mar. 23—A countywide mask mandate was lifted in Wilson County over the weekend, but some stores are choosing to stick with safety measures in place, at least for now.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto may have suspended the mandate Friday but says that he's not asking people to stop wearing masks. In fact, Hutto said, he'd still have his with him, whenever he went out.
The mandate was always "more of a request than a requirement," Hutto said.
The mayor added that the county encouraged mask wearing, even when outside in public spaces, if social distancing guidelines could not be observed.
Hutto said that when the governor issued the order to authorize individual counties to implement mask mandates, it was done to address emerging COVID hotspots. These hotspots were determined based on metrics the White House identified as COVID-transmission indicators, such as positivity rates and new cases. Designated zones ranged from red to yellow based on these factors.
A "red zone" would be any county that reported both new cases at or above 101 per 100,000 people and a lab test positivity result at or above 10.1%.
A "yellow zone" designation, where Wilson County now finds itself, means that during the last week, new cases were reported between 10 — 50 per 100,000 and a lab test positivity result between 5 — 7.9%.
According to Hutto, when Wilson County's designation changed from red to yellow, it nullified the need for the order. However, Hutto said this doesn't change his insistence for Wilson County to stay resilient. "By and large, we still think it's important to wear the masks. I'll still be wearing mine," Hutto said.
The mayor said that he didn't think compelling behavior was ever the best approach. Describing it as a lifestyle change we should adapt to, the county mayor, said it needs to be a personal decision to wear a mask, not a forced hand.
"People need to keep on the forefront of their minds that COVID is still here," he said. "We didn't want it but we aren't done dealing with it just yet."
Through Friday, 214 Wilson Countians have died from COVID and 17,172 have caught the disease.
Hutto also said anyone who qualifies to get a vaccine should. "It's another tool in our tool kit for dealing with this thing. We want to be equipped as best we can."
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the 14-day rolling average for new cases had dropped to 43 people per day, down nearly 20% since February. The report also revealed a 7-day positivity rate that has more than cut in half since the start of the year.
For a lot of employees and store owners around Wilson County, the mayor lifting the mask mandate won't change their practices.
Jesse Davidson is a professional guitarist and sales associate at Shiloh Music Center in Mt. Juliet. Davidson said his store has had signs up for months saying entry required a mask.
He said for the most part, the store met little resistance from customers. "Every now and then someone would come in without a mask."
Davidson said the store kept extra masks at the cash register for shoppers who may have forgotten to bring one inside. As for employees and management, Davidson said they've been wearing masks since the pandemic's onset, and that they would continue to do so until it was safe not to.
"I'm a touring guitar player and I just want to get back on the road. So whatever I can do to help speed up that timeline, I'm going to do," Davidson said
Many of the larger chains like Kroger and Publix will continue to operate under companywide mask policy that was never conditioned upon a Wilson County decree. However, some smaller outlets aren't abandoning the ship just yet.
Ed Robertson is a co-owner at the Cash Saver on High Street in Lebanon. He said, "We aren't going to make anyone wear a mask when they come in the store, but, we are going to continue to ask our employees and customers to observe safe social distancing measures and wear masks if they can."
Robertson said the store only ever acted from intentions of safety and that they would not stop keeping safety in mind with any adjustments to policy.
While grocery stores have been able to stay open as "essential business," health clubs and gymnasiums were not originally excluded from shutdowns. In time, gyms did start reopening. For Sports Village Fitness in Lebanon, reopening carried the burden of doing so safely.
President and General Manager Jan Rubins said that if you wanted to work out at Sports Village Fitness, "you have to bring a mask and pass a temperature screening to get in."
Rubins said that he doesn't plan to change any of these measures in light of the county rescinding the mask mandate.
"Our goal has always been to keep people healthy, and provide them the safest environment to exercise in. What the county does won't change that," Rubins said.
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