MOUNT CARMEL — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 5-1 on Thursday to require masks be worn by board members at all BMA meetings, although one alderman stated his asthma excludes him from complying.

Mayor Jennifer Williams, a retired nurse who specialized in communicable disease, opened Thursday’s BMA meeting with several statistical updates about the COVID-19 crisis.

She noted that as of Thursday evening Hawkins County had 99 open COVID cases and 162 confirmed cases overall since the crisis began.

Throughout the Northeast Tennessee region, as of Thursday there were 1,043 active cases, 128 hospitalizations, 1,842 total cases, and 14 deaths.

Williams then made a motion to require board members to wear protective face masks during board meetings.

“I think it’s really important that we do everything to be safe and do precautions for that,” Williams said. “... We should be responsible and we should protect our neighbors by wearing masks. In that respect, I expect the board to wear masks, and I would like the board to weigh in on whether or not you would want to require masks here at the board meetings.”

Williams added, “It’s close contact. We do not want to bring the COVID in here. I understand a lot of people feel like it’s their right not to wear a mask. … By not wearing a mask, you’re infecting the person next to you because it protects them.”

“You can’t meet the six-foot distance in here”

Alderman Jim Gilliam suggested moving meetings from City Hall’s smaller ground floor meeting room to the much larger second floor Senior Center, where meetings had been held for the past several years until earlier this year.

“How can you ask somebody to wear a mask when you can’t meet the six-foot distance in here?” Gilliam asked. “That’s the problem.”

Gilliam added, “Some people can wear them and some can’t. I’ve got some asthma.”

Board members who supported the mask rule

Tresa Mawk: “My husband has a lung disease. If I bring it home to him, he’s dead.”

Pat Stilwell: “My husband is a bad diabetic and has heart problems, and if I bring it home to him, he’s dead.”

Garrett White: “My wife is a diabetic, and it would be a real concern if I took that home to her.”

Wanda Davidson: “If we don’t set an example, we can’t ask the people coming into the audience to wear them.”

“It should be left up to the individual”

The vote was 5-1 in favor of the mask rule with Gilliam opposed and Steven McLain abstaining.

McLain: “I think it should be left up to the individual. I don’t think you should mandate it. Request it.”

Williams: “We have tried to request it, and it still isn’t being complied with.”

Gilliam: “I guess to be real about it, take this meeting and put it upstairs (in the Senior Center) where you can get the distance the way it should be done. Go by the rules.”

Following the vote, McLain complied with Williams’ request to put on a face mask, but Gilliam remained unmasked.

City Manager Mike Housewright told the Times News on Friday that all city employees entering City Hall must wear a mask.

“If someone is working in their office alone, they may remove it,” Housewright noted. “Also, whenever two employees are riding in a vehicle together, they must wear a mask.”

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