USA/July 18, 2020/By: Yihyun Jeong/Source: https://www.tennessean.com
Nashville has had a face mask mandate since June 30. But even as enforcement began Wednesday, city health officials and Mayor John Cooper said the focus will remain on education, not citations for those who flout mask requirements.
A special team of school resource officers have been assigned to mask enforcement, with guidance from the police department that using discretion and warning individuals, is “reasonably likely to correct the violation.”
On Wednesday, with efforts focused on downtown and Lower Broadway, which has become city’s center of the virus outbreak, officers issued nearly 500 warnings and handed out about 80 masks.
“We’re not really looking to cite people,” Dr. Michael Caldwell, Nashville’s health director said Thursday. “We want to assure compliance. Citations are that final piece to assure compliance, if necessary, but the goal is compliance.”
Metro health officials reported 322 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday — a 16% positive rate of the tests in the 24-hour reporting period. With a record-breaking week of new infections, Dr. Alex Jahangir, the head of the city’s coronavirus task force, said the city will remain in its current phase for the “foreseeable future.”
“If eight out of 10 Nashvillians were to faithfully abide by Metro’s face covering order, we could successfully avoid reverting back to earlier phases,” Cooper said Thursday during the city’s health briefing.
His remarks are in reference to a study that found that if at least 80% of the population wore a mask, it could be more effective than a total lock down to reduce slow the spread of the virus.
But James Smallwood, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, has pushed back on using officers to enforce the “draconian” mandate. In a letter Wednesday he highlighted “significant concerns” he and other officers have, as they say law enforcement is put in a complicated position.
In response Thursday, Cooper said it is the “duty” of officers to enforce the law, knowing “full well” the pandemic requires it.
“Never has their calling been more important, and never have we needed it more than right now to serve and protect,” Cooper said. “This happens to be the way of doing that right now. No person in Nashville, including the police force, should remove themselves from the responsibility of getting this done for our city.”
Coordinated approach needed
Nashville officials were forceful this week in calling for a state and national pandemic response. Without a coordinated plan, they said Tuesday when the city recorded its single-highest day of new infections yet, Metro’s ability to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be hindered.
“We are doing everything we can as a municipality to fight this virus but it is going up,” Jahangir said. “I’m concerned about our positivity rate going up. That’s why we are doing everything as a city to fight it. I think this is why we need a regional, a state, and maybe a national response.”
Cooper, who began Thursday’s briefing rattling of states that have enacted a statewide mask mandate, did not specifically address a question of whether he’s requested Gov. Bill Lee to do so.
The state and counties, he said, should have a mask ordinance if they have a “high case risk” that prohibits visitation to nursing homes, calling it “simple metric” to apply and a “logical” response.
“I would encourage the state to make that happen,” Cooper said.
Lee on Tuesday said he is not considering a statewide mask mandate and that closing the economy down again is not an option on the table to fight the pandemic, even as cases surge in Tennessee.
Instead, he pleaded with Tennesseans to wear masks — and affirming that doing so is not a political statement.
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