The Warren County mask mandate is officially over – a mandate that was about as popular as forcing people to eat broccoli.
I have to give Warren County Executive Jimmy Haley credit for instituting the mask mandate in August because I’m convinced it was the right thing to do. It caused a bunch of folks to complain about the government overstepping its reach and trampling the rights of the people, but I believe it was the proper decision.
There are a number of rules in place in the name of public safety that we’re forced to live by every day. We can’t drive 55 mph in a school zone because it’s not the best thing to do for the safety of our children. We’re not supposed to carry a firearm while intoxicated because that’s not such a good idea either.
Both of these rules could be perceived as the government “snatching” our rights, but they are in place to protect the well-being of society. We don’t need our children getting run over, or drunk people opening fire. It seems straightforward.
The reason Gov. Bill Lee didn’t enact a mask mandate is because he wanted to remain the hero on the white horse, the guy who wasn’t going to have government intrude into our lives. A statewide mask mandate would have certainly helped to quell the spread of COVID in Tennessee, but it would have created backlash.
So Gov. Lee did a do-si-do around the issue and forced county executives to be the bad guy. Lee said he wasn’t going to enact any mandates at the state level because each community was unique and at different stages of the pandemic.
Some rural areas weren’t hit hard, Lee said, while some urban areas were. Each community should be responsible for deciding on its own.
In other words, Lee didn’t want to be the one to make an unpopular decision. Or show leadership.
So I applaud County Executive Haley for taking one for the team so to speak. I heard groveling and complaining about the requirement and people who openly questioned how Haley had that authority. He had that authority because Gov. Lee kicked the can down the road and forced county executives to make the hard decision.
While there were people who blatantly ignored the mandate, and there was little enforcement, there were also many, many people who heeded the advice and decided to wear a face covering in public.
I’m confident it helped. And just because the official mask mandate is over doesn’t mean everyone has to remove their mask and shove it in their sock drawer.
People are still encouraged to wear a mask and I saw several comments on the Southern Standard Facebook page from people indicating they are still going to continue the practice.
It's a shame a simple public health precaution has become such a divisive issue, but that's America in 2020. I think Haley made the proper decision, even though it was an unpopular one.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.