County Executive Jimmy Haley addressed last week’s executive order mandating masks and the ensuing uproar in his weekly COVID-19 press conference on Tuesday.
“The mask mandate has had the exact results I had wished. It has made headlines,” said Haley. “It has blown up on social media. It has brought attention to the fact that we all must play our part if we wish to return to any kind of normal any time soon.”
Haley stressed the mandate was necessary because people weren’t heeding his weekly suggestions to voluntarily wear masks.
“Wearing a mask is really a simple request,” said Haley. “Previous pleas to help contain and mitigate the virus went unheeded. Some accepted the challenge and did the right thing. Others ignored the warning and went on with business as usual. In the meantime numbers and deaths grew.”
Haley also addressed the issue he had with his own mask at last Thursday’s special broadcast when he announced the mandate.
“With my wardrobe malfunction during last week’s livestream, I can be the first to admit that face coverings can be an issue, especially when delivering a speech,” said Haley. “Some of you took great pleasure in poking fun at me. It is OK to laugh at me, but I must remind you that the threat to our lives is a serious matter.”
Director of Schools Grant Swallows took the podium and announced Cumberland Caverns made a donation to the school system for Chromebooks and other items to increase the virtual learning opportunities for students in Warren County.
“That’s a great example of the type of community support we’ve experienced in the last few weeks and the last few months,” said Swallows.
Swallows commended teachers, staff, and students for their efforts since school started back last week.
“I am so proud of the work that our teachers and staff have done in order to serve our students in this school year,” said Swallows. “It has been a challenge and it will continue to be a challenge, but we’re up for that challenge.”
“I also want to brag on our families and our students,” said Swallows. “I was at a school building last Wednesday helping students out of their cars and taking temperatures. Students were excited, they were fired up, they were smiling behind their masks. The parents were patient and appreciative and I just can’t say enough about how great the start of our school year has gone up to this point.”
Swallows said six positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Warren County Schools so far and that they’re all in different environments and all different areas of the county.
“Our system is working. The system with the hybrid schedule that gives us the opportunity to social distance our students more appropriately and more effectively has allowed those cases and close contact to be less prevalent,” said Swallows.
Students who test positive are isolated for 10 days and learn on the homebound or homeschool curriculum.
The School Board has a meeting this Thursday and Swallows anticipates much discussion among the members regarding whether to extend the hybrid approach or carry on with the original plan of students returning to class full time Aug. 31.
State Sen. Janice Bowling joined the press conference by phone and discussed some COVID-related bills which were passed last week. One in particular is senate bill 8002, or the COVID-19 Recovery Act.
The act puts hurdles in place that anyone filing a virus-related liability lawsuit must overcome, including showing the defendant’s actions amount to gross negligence or willful misconduct.
“In simple language, all the people who were doing everything they knew to help prevent the spread and help protect the people in their business, they will be protected if they were using the best practices and following the recommendations of the CDC and the state and federal government,” said Bowling.
Haley discussed an amendment to last week’s executive order clarifying that face coverings are not required for children under 12 except in school settings.
“You are an amazing county,” Haley said in closing. “Your commitment to do the right thing will lift us up over all who wish to take us down.”