Metro Public Health Department Director Gill Wright is resisting pressure from the Metro Council to implement a countywide mask mandate.
The Metro Council on Sept. 7 passed a resolution asking the health department to mandate masks indoors in Davidson County regardless of vaccination status as hospitals buckle under the weight of COVID-19. The resolution passed 21-9, and was discussed in the Metro board of health meeting on Sept. 9.
In a letter to board members on Thursday, Wright said the department strongly encourages all members of the public to wear masks indoors, but that factors including inconsistent policies across neighboring jurisdictions and the wide availability of the COVID-19 vaccine complicate the need for a blanket mandate.
“Prior to the vaccine, masks and distancing were the only public health interventions available to use, which led to public health orders that included a county-wide mask mandate and capacity restrictions. MPHD phased out all restrictions shortly after an appropriate medical intervention — the vaccines — became widely available,” Wright wrote in the letter. “As valuable as masks are, the way through this pandemic is vaccination.”
Mayor John Cooper has already issued a mask mandate for all Metro buildings and employees, and the Davidson County Board of Education has instituted one for all public schools. The health department has also facilitated decisions to mandate masks at major venues and local business, including most recently an indoor mask mandate for all events hosted at Bridgestone Arena. Wright said that even if those protocols were to extended to the general public, infections of COVID-19 from outside the county will continue to fill hospital beds in the region.
“The inconsistency of COVID interventions across political jurisdictions has plagued the response in this country from the beginning and continues to affect what any local entity can accomplish by itself,” he wrote.
The state of hospitals in Davidson County seems to be the tipping point for whether the board of health will mandate masks across the county again. In the letter, Wright said local hospitals have not yet been stretched to their breaking point — but that a temporary mandate could be put in place in the future to help ease pressure.