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Nashville mayor says businesses must enforce his mask mandate

Employees help customers with their orders on the phone Thursday, June 25, 2020, in Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn.

(The Center Square) – Nashville Mayor John Cooper said Tuesday he expects businesses to be a primary enforcer of the city’s mask mandate.

“It is not up to the health department or the police to catch people,” Cooper said. “It is up to the public to expect a level of safety from each other. … We cannot cite our way out of this.”

Cooper’s mask mandate has been in effect since June 29, but the Nashville Police Department has yet to issue a citation for a mask violation. Hundreds of verbal warnings have been issued.

After announcing Tuesday that restaurants in Nashville will be required to close at 10 p.m. beginning Friday, Cooper addressed business owners in the city:

“The people that are keeping you closed and not letting you open on normal hours are the people who are not wearing masks and not complying with social distancing,” Cooper said. “It is not the public health department, it is the behavior of people not doing what they should.

“It is not the government doing something to them, this is us keeping each other safe,” Cooper continued. “If you have a business and you are hurting, go out and tell people to wear masks.”

It’s been a tough year for Nashville businesses. Days after a tornado ripped through northeast Nashville, many businesses were forced to shut down for weeks to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Now reopened, employees must follow strict health protocols.

“Boy, it is in their interest, more than anybody else, to get people to wear masks, to socially distance to stop the spread of the disease,” Cooper said, adding that restrictions would continue as long as it takes to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Nashville business owners now also face a 34 percent property tax increase, which the mayor said Tuesday he will not consider delaying.

Josh Boyd, owner of Computer Pros and Technology Lab, two IT businesses in Nashville, said the property tax increase will affect his businesses.

“We own our building downtown, and our property tax is going to skyrocket next year,” Boyd told The Center Square. “The building in Green Hills that we rent, our rent there is going to go up considerably as well. It’s quite unfortunate, considering that the Metro Council isn’t willing to tighten their belt as much as they need to right now.”

Boyd said that while most customers who visit his businesses do wear masks, or use one his business provides, being required to carry out the mayor’s order creates “an awkward situation.”

“At the end of the day, our job is not to enforce the law, our job is to sell products and service our clients. We’re definitely not in the enforcement business,” Boyd said. “But obviously we’re trying to balance that with keeping our employees safe, and trying to do our part to help out.”

Cooper said he believes additional federal and state assistance may be coming for Nashville’s businesses, and he is not considering additional financial assistance. Bars and “transportainment” businesses will remain closed through the end of the month.

“We will all suffer. Let’s make the suffering as short as possible,” Cooper said. “Prolonging the suffering is not a good strategy.”

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