BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable issued an executive order Friday afternoon requiring the use of face masks by employees and patrons of businesses countywide.

Venable said he made the decision after conferring with the mayors of Kingsport, Bristol and Bluff City, and it is based on advice and information from local health officials.

Dr. Stephen May, medical director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, said COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled this week in Sullivan County, exceeding 200 cases.

“We are now dealing with clusters within some healthcare facilities in our communities,” May said, adding that hospital capacity is also a concern as cases have risen.

May said social distancing (more than six feet between people), hand washing, and the use of masks continue to be key ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

May said the health department is discouraging local residents from unnecessary travel, but is asking those who do travel to continue adhering to precautions to stop the spread of the disease.

“Your mask protects your neighbor. Their mask protects you,” May said.

The order

• Effective at 12:01 a.m. on July 12, 2020, all businesses, organizations, or venues open to usage by members of the public in Sullivan County, Tennessee, shall require the use of face coverings or masks by their employees and members of the public while inside their premises in areas accessible by the public.

NOTE: Cloth face coverings or masks should NOT be worn by children under two or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

• Places of worship are exempt from the requirements of this Order, pursuant to Governor Lee’s Executive Orders No. 38 and 50.

• This Order does not require businesses, organizations, or venues to supply face coverings or masks to members of the public.

• Use of face coverings or masks shall not be required by members of the public while seated for the purpose of dining in any restaurant or business that provides food and/or drink for on premises consumption or other business as defined by The Tennessee Pledge.

• Sullivan County, Tennessee continues to be governed in all other aspects by the Executive Orders issued by Gov. Lee.

• This order shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on August 12, 2020, unless otherwise modified or withdrawn by future Orders or by the State of Tennessee.

Venable confirmed there are no procedures or protocols in place to enforce mask usage.

“There will be no formal enforcement of this act,” Venable said.

But he said his advice is for individuals to use their own judgment about doing business any place they see masks not being used.

Venable said he has experienced thinking he might have been positive for COVID-19 and the distress it caused him thinking he might have passed it to his own loved ones.

“There’s no worse feeling,” Venable said.

Venable said he’s proud of county residents’ behavior thus far during the pandemic, but this move is necessary due to the events of the last week, with 80 new cases and double the amount of people hospitalized due to the virus, and two deaths overnight.

“We’re asking people for cooperation,” Venable said.

Venable echoed May in urging people to limit behavior after vacation or travel.

“I personally think this spike this week is related to vacations and people not being careful,” Venable said. “I’m not saying don’t go on vacation. I’m urging you to not go to hotspots and give yourself time when you get back ... to make sure you’re not infectious.”