A bicyclist wears a mask Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The Nashville Health Department has put in place a mask mandate to help battle the spread of the coronavirus.
(The Center Square) – Nearly three weeks after the first countywide mask mandate went into effect in Tennessee, no citations have been issued to individuals for not wearing a mask.
At least seven of the 13 Tennessee counties that require masks in public have not issued any citations to individuals for not wearing a mask. Instead, law enforcement is opting for an educational approach with an eye to encouraging compliance, using citations as a last resort.
“So far we have not issued any citations,” Mallory Cooke, public information officer at the Jackson-Madison County Regional Health Department, told The Center Square. “The goal is to get more people to wear masks. We don’t have the staff to go out and police this, to go out and issue citations. That’s not the goal. The goal is for people to wear masks.”
According to sheriff’s offices, no citations have been issued to individuals violating mask orders in Robertson, Montgomery, Sevier, Williamson, Sumner, and Madison counties. The Metro Nashville Police Department reported Wednesday more than 40 citations issued to businesses where employees were not wearing masks but no individual citations. MNPD did report nearly 500 verbal warnings for mask violations.
“We’re not really looking to cite people,” Nashville Health Director Dr. Michael Caldwell said Thursday at a news conference. “We want to assure compliance. Citations are that final piece to assure compliance, if necessary, but the goal is compliance.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said that while most Nasvhillians are complying with the order, no one should “remove themself from their responsibility” of wearing a mask.
“That small sliver of people who aren’t need to be reminded and educated that this is the right thing to do as a citizen,” Cooper said. “There are disease deniers. … They need to be shown the right path to do it.”
Similar strategies for education are in place in Nashville suburbs.
“I have asked our deputies if they saw large groups to encourage social distancing, and if they do not have a mask, offer them one,” Sumner County Sheriff Sonny Weatherford told The Center Square. “We gave away over 6,000 masks last week at advertised locations in Sumner County.”
“We are working to educate people. Issuing citations will be a last resort,” Sharon Pucket, public information officer for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, told The Center Square. “We are hopeful that people will follow the mayor’s mandate.”
The Sevier County Sheriff’s office told The Center Square people not wearing masks are given a warning and a mask.
“We’re utilizing education and communicating with the community as our preferred method of attaining compliance with the mask mandate,” Jessica Drake, public information officer for the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office, told The Center Square. “What we are utilizing is mainly just education and communication up to a warning, if necessary.”
Police in the city of Chattanooga will not be issuing citations for mask violations at all. Police Chief David Roddy said in a Facebook Live broadcast that masks are important to prevent spreading the virus.
“Chattanooga police officers will not be issuing any citations relative to noncompliance on masks,” Roddy said. “We will encourage you, we will educate you, and we will, hopefully, set the example for you, but we will also not issue citations on that.”
Several leaders have urged Gov. Bill Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate in Tennessee.
“We do need statewide action in order for us to have a consistent approach and one that really does aggressively tackle this virus. We’re not able to continue with this patchwork policy or suggestions,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Raumesh Akbari said.
“We need to be as effective as we can be, but we’re also not an island,” Cooper said, adding that a statewide mask ordinance would be “extremely reasonable.”
Neighboring states Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia have statewide mask orders in effect. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order Wednesday night encouraging the use of masks and restricting local governments from issuing and county or city mask mandates.
Lee has encouraged Tennesseans to wear masks in public, but he said Tuesday he is not considering a statewide mask mandate.