***Update – The Hamilton County Health Department and Mayor Coppinger have extended the Mask Mandate in Hamilton County until January 15th, 2021.***
Hamilton County, TN – The Hamilton County Commission met for their regular meeting yesterday morning, November 18th.
Much of the second half of the meeting revolved around COVID-19 in advance of Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger’s announcement about the mask mandate extension today, November 19th. Earlier in the week, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Tennessee as a whole should follow Hamilton County’s example and put a mask mandate in place.
Mayor Coppinger and the Commissioners who spoke regarding the matter all touted the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, and general COVID-19 restrictions while call-in residents voiced concerns and asked questions regarding policies.
District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter utilized her announcement time to remind the public to “wear your masks, social distance and be safe as we get into this holiday season.”
District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe recognized that COVID-19 and hybrid learning have put a significant strain on students, families, educators and the community.
“The pathway to more normalcy that we have right now is through people social distancing, wearing a mask and frankly just not being around other people unless you have to be.”
He also stressed the importance of K through 3rd grade students being able to continue to go to school, 5 days a week, to be in the presence of trained educators.
“It’s critical they have that time in front of their teachers to continue that process. If we cannot do that and come together as a community to facilitate that we are failing not only our community, we are failing the children, we are failing the future of our community.”
“Somehow we have to work together to help reduce the numbers and the spread of this virus in our community, because it is going to have lasting impact…for years to come, ” Sharpe said.
Mayor Jim Coppinger stated “We need people to hang in there for a little while longer. We know now we have the vaccination coming. We know we’ve got better therapeutic drugs. The physicians have learned better ways to treat it.”
“Help is on the way with the vaccination if you choose to take it….the Governor is not going to force you to do it. If we can get people to comply with masks, it does help to minimize the spread.”
“We do know masks make a difference. We are not saying masks stop it. We are saying masks minimize your risk,” Coppinger said.
Coppinger criticized social media for circulating false or misleading information.
“If you ask people where they get their information, a lot of it comes from social media and it’s just not accurate. I read something on there that said ‘CDC says 85% of the people that have had positive tests were wearing masks’. The CDC never said that but if enough people circulate that poor information, people are going to believe it.”
At the close of official business for the meeting, calls were accepted from residents.
The first caller addressed the lack of data available to the public citing that what is needed is symptom onset data, not the currently reported data that can be as much as two weeks old.
“I think that if the data quality was increasing, if there was more transparency, we’d know conclusively, it wouldn’t be a social media thing.. It would be like ‘here’s the data, it’s solid, it’s not disputable’…not a backlog of data that’s all being reported on this date, ” the caller said.
The resident also expressed that she has called Becky Barnes at the Hamilton County Health Department regarding symptom onset data several times but never receives a return call and that it would be helpful to have a public meeting with the individuals making recommendations to Barnes.
District 2 Commissioner, Chairman Chip Baker, stated that he would look into getting her the requested information and that such a meeting would be a good idea.
The next caller had this statement, “At the present time there doesn’t appear to be any limit to any restrictions for any amount of time that the County Mayor and the Health Department can place on the citizens of Hamilton County.
” This denies the citizens of any representation by the commissioners and there is no end in sight. Something needs to be done to protect the rights of the people.”
“At the present time, anyone who sits in the mayor’s chair can completely control the lives and livelihood of all the citizens for an unlimited amount of time. This is not the way the government is supposed to work,” the caller said.
Chelsea Mae from the Hamilton County Advocates for Freedom addressed the council.
“I have a severe religious conviction that I should not cover my face and I do not feel represented or like there is any recognition of religious exemption in the mask mandate. I can see this mandate tearing our community apart,” Mae said.
Mae expressed that the exemptions have not been clarified to the public and to businesses.
“I see this mandate causing many hostilities. Turning businesses against customers and customers against businesses,” she stated. “And I don’t feel we’re being represented well by our elected representatives.”
Mae questioned how long the mandates will be in effect and expressed concerns regarding the Mayor Coppinger’s statement that the governor will not enforce vaccinations, “but how about the local health department?”
In reply, District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin stated, “Anyone who feels their religious freedom is be impeded by any aspect of the government are amiss.”
Martin stated that churches are open and some are not requiring or wearing masks.
“Whether that’s smart, safe, health guidelines, we’ll let other people make that decision.”
“Our County Health Department and neither has our Governor said that people cannot express themselves religiously in their houses of worship,” Martin said.
Commissioner Martin expressed that Constitutional rights supersede any mandates, etc. but he also suggested seeking legal council about not wearing masks in public due to religious beliefs.
Martin stated that he will personally be an advocate for religious freedom and offered his phone number to anyone who feels they are experiencing religious suppression.
The final caller asked the Commission whether a law could be passed to protect those that have religious and medical exemptions to the mask mandate.
The Commissioners nor the Mayor replied to the caller.
The Tennessee Conservative will update this article after Mayor Coppinger’s announcement later today.