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Watch now: Sullivan County mayor orders masks be worn in public starting Sunday
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Watch now: Sullivan County mayor orders masks be worn in public starting Sunday

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — In the wake of two deaths from COVID-19, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable issued a mandatory mask order across Northeast Tennessee’s most populated county on Friday.

Those deaths occurred at the Christian Care Center of Bristol, Tennessee, just hours before Venable issued the executive order to require masks to be worn, effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The order states that all businesses, organizations and venues open to the public will now require the use of face coverings or masks to be worn by employees or members of the public.

The rule excludes the use of face masks by children age 2 or younger, anyone who has trouble breathing or by anyone unconscious or incapacitated.

The order does not require any venue to supply face coverings to the public, Venable said.

Additionally, the order also does not require face masks by diners at restaurants.

The order remains in effect through Aug. 12, Venable said.

“There are going to be some folks that are not going to be happy about this,” said Mahlon Luttrell, the mayor of Bristol, Tennessee.

Still, Luttrell said, “If this action can save one life, it’s worth it.”

With over 80 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past week in Sullivan County, Venable said, “We find it necessary for government to take this action.”

Since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, Venable said four deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Sullivan County.

In turn, Venable said, “I personally think this spike this week is related to vacations and people not being careful.”

Venable urged anyone going on vacation to “limit their behavior” when returning to the area until they know that they are not infected.

Venable expects positive results from his mask mandate.

“You’re not giving up liberty. You’re only showing respect,” Venable said.

“I hope it will affect the spread of the disease — to slow or stop the spread of the disease,” Venable said. “We’re trying to tell our visitors, ‘Please protect our food service people. Please protect our people who work in hotels.’”

Anyone who is within 6 feet of another person should consider wearing a mask, said Dr. Andrew Stephen May, the regional medical director for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.

In the end, the mask mandate is a voluntary action.

“There will be no formal enforcement of this act,” Venable said. “This is not something that government can bestow on you. It’s still personal responsibility to wash your hands and wear the mask and maintain social distancing. Government can’t do that for us.”

jtennis@bristolnews.com | 276-791-0709 | @BHC_Tennis

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