The Knox County Board of Health has extended the bar and restaurant 11 p.m. closure order for at least 14 days with the hope of continuing to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The board also extended a public gathering limit of 25 people for small indoor spaces.
Both measures will expire Oct. 15 without another extension.
The vote was 7-1 in favor of extending the 11 p.m. closure measure. Only Dr. Dianna Drake voted in opposition. Dr. Martha Buchanan and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs were not present. The vote to extend the public gathering order was unanimous.
“I’m really hoping that will be it,” Dr. Patrick O’Brien said. “We really don’t want to ping pong … we don’t want to drop it and bring it back.”
O’Brien said he had heard from the Knoxville Police Department that local business owners had quickly complied with the new regulations.
“It’s been really impressive what our business owners have done over the past two weeks so kudos to them,” said O’Brien.
Other board members thanked the community for complying and said that they understood how hard things had been locally.
“Thank you to all our fellow citizens who make those sacrifices and efforts,” said Dr. Maria Hurt. “We get it, we really do.”
“As far as we understand it’s been going well so far,” she continued.
The board also moved to meet every two weeks rather than meeting every week, saying that their COVID-19 rules had up until now been scheduled to expire every two weeks. The next meeting will occur Oct. 14.
Jacobs left the board meeting after the members moved to push the meetings to a biweekly schedule, citing a prior commitment.
The decisions came just days after the Knox County Commission passed a resolution during a marathon session Monday stating that commissioners wanted the board of health’s pandemic powers to be stripped, but the resolution was symbolic.
“The simple thing to say,” said David Sanders, the county’s senior deputy law director, “is that the resolution passed Monday night does not affect this board in any way. It is an aspirational statement of the County Commission.”
Commissioners at the same meeting voted to appoint Ani Roma, a middle school health teacher and local business owner, as a “citizen representative.” Roma co-runs Dirty Bird Events, a local trail running and off-road “adventure racing” event management service.
The health board has come under fire – and been staunchly supported – over the course of the pandemic for its coronavirus suppression measures. Members have faced angry crowds of bar and brewery owners. State Rep Jason Zachary tried, and failed, during the last legislative session to have their power stripped and routed to the county mayor.
For Knox County, that would have meant placing COVID-19 prevention powers into the hands of Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who has vocally opposed practically every COVID-19 safety measure proposed by the board.
At last week’s health board meeting things came to a head when board member Dr. Maria Hurt played an ominous video narrated by Jacobs. She and other board members said they felt threatened.
When the video showed the faces of the Knox County Board of Health, Jacobs says: “Unelected bureaucrats who cast down edicts which carry the force of law with no accountability and no recourse.”
Jacobs apologized for way members felt after watching the video, but not for its content.
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