Coronavirus Update

The Knox County Board of Health met virtually Wednesday evening to discuss proposed Regulation 2020-5. The Board of Health has been meeting weekly since July 15, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just over two months ago, the board passed Regulation 2020-1, more commonly known as the mask mandate, which continues to be a polarizing issue both on campus and off. Regulation 2020-4 was voted into effect on July 6th and regulates hours of operation for some bars and restaurants. 

Before the board made a decision on the regulation, they held a public open forum where community members shared their thanks, appreciation and concerns. Speakers were asked to sign up earlier this week and were given two minutes of speaking time. Citizens spoke on several different issues, but the majority were critical of face-covering requirements.

Citing a surgical mask study from 1981, one concerned speaker addressed both the members of the Board of Health and those watching. “I beseech anyone here who is listening to take off your mask and never put one on your face again.” she said, ending her time with “We will not be silent and we will not obey.” 

Another citizen, who is a healthcare professional and COVID-19 testing site supervisor, delivered a tragic message of what the last six months looked like on the front lines, and how masks can help change that in the future. 

One of the only voices advocating for continued use of the mask mandate. “If you could see what I see and hear what I hear, you would not only support a mask mandate but be grateful for it,” he said.

In response to the face-covering regulation, Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler refused to enforce the regulation and called its constitutionality into question. 

After the Public Forum, Chancellor Plowman spoke briefly about the cases on campus and the identified clusters from which they can be traced. The University is defining “cluster” as at least five positive cases and/or 20 close contacts as a result of one event in one location. 

“We have identified six clusters since early August ... One related to an off-campus party, and five directly tied to sorority and fraternity houses,” Plowman said. “We’ve begun a full review and reassessment of the operational plans for each sorority and fraternity ... We’re going to work with them to make sure there are plans in place that address the right standards so that members can quarantine in the house.”

The Health Board then discussed the Face Covering Regulation (2020-1), the Suppression in Bars Regulation (2020-4) and proposed 2020-5. The main function of the proposed regulation is to clarify that establishments that “brown bag” or allow customers to bring alcoholic beverages instead of purchasing them on-site, will also fall under the 10:00 p.m. curfew. 

The consideration comes as the result of employees of brown-bagging establishments. Dr. Hurt, a board member and professor at The University mentions the board receiving these emails for four consecutive weeks. 

“We don’t feel safe,” Hunt said. “People are coming in and not observing the five actions.”

After much discussion, the vote on 2020-5 was postponed to allow board members to spend more time to study in more detail. 

In order to maintain regulations already in place, a motion was made to extend 2020-4 for two weeks. This motion was passed with two out of eight members voting against its extension, Mayor Glen Jacobs and Dr. Dianna Drake. 

The KCHB meetings are held Wednesday evenings beginning at 5:00 pm. You can watch live on the Knox County YouTube channel, or by visiting their website.

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