No mandate – but county mayor asks residents to wear masks

By Steve Short

 

Gibson County Mayor Tom Witherspoon talked to county commissioners July 13 about the increase in coronavirus cases. He asked officials to help drive down the number of people infected with the disease.

In the first weeks of July, West Tennessee saw a “significant and steady increase” in the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in area hospitals, according to a spokesperson for West Tennessee Healthcare. Increases were noted in the number of patients hospitalized, the severity of the condition of those hospitalized and the number of patients requiring ventilators.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 cases increased by nearly 2,500 new cases in a single day.

On July 13, Witherspoon posted signs on the doors of the commission meeting asking officials to “mask up” to slow the pandemic. The county does not have a mandate requiring masks, but Witherspoon implored commissioners to help with the public health challenge.

“I’d like to continue to encourage everybody out there to wear masks and practice good social distancing,” he said. “We’ve seen our COVID numbers go up quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, as we begin to reopen things. It’s a little bit alarming, the numbers that we’re seeing.

“At this time, we’ve not mandated mask wearing in the county,” he added. “I’m meeting with the municipal mayors on a regular basis. Sheriff [Paul] Thomas met with us to talk about how (a mask mandate) would be enforced. It’s a difficult thing to enforce. Do we want to impose a fine on people? During these harsh economic times, we don’t want to do that. On the other hand, we can’t ignore the load that’s being put on our hospitals. We’re being contacted by them on a daily basis about those numbers.

“I don’t like this any more than you guys; it’s a pain in the butt,” Witherspoon told commissioners. “But it’s in our lap, and we’ve got to deal with it. There’s only one way to keep these numbers down, and that’s just to stay apart from each other, don’t breathe on each other, and wear a mask when you can’t social distance. It’s just that simple.”

“I didn’t come up with this; I’m not a doctor,” said the mayor. “I’m not an epidemiologist. I’ve got a 21-month education doing tool and die work. Do not take medical advice from me.

“The people I do listen to are my doctors. I think we would all be well-served to do that. Listen to your own doctors; listen to people that you trust. Let’s be safe out there and look out for one another. Hopefully a vaccine will come along before too long, and we’ll come out of this fine.

“This is the first time we’ve dealt with something like this, it’s the first time in my lifetime for maybe something this huge on a global level. I’m just the county mayor here in Gibson County. I can’t fix it by myself. We need more overarching plans to deal with this. I’m doing the best I can, and my staff’s doing the best we can to keep everybody safe and keep the courthouse open and keep government operating. I’m very proud of how they’ve all been able to do that, especially our building and maintenance crews. They’ve knocked it out of the park, really have.

“I wouldn’t want any of you guys to get sick or fall ill,” he said. “This is from firsthand experience. My 26-year-old godson just got over COVID-19. He’s 26 years old and the picture of health, runs all the time, works out. He was very, very sick and probably should have gone to the hospital. He thought it was a hoax, too, until he caught it. He doesn’t think it’s a hoax now.

“Don’t live in fear and don’t get yourself worked up in a frenzy for no reason, but just take some precautions and look out for one another, and let’s drive these numbers down. Let’s all work together. I appreciate you being here and practicing safe measures.”

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