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HealthConnections: Exploring Health Boards

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In the pre-pandemic days, the Knox County Board of Health met quarterly to discuss routine business, evaluate the county health department budget and get updates from health department staff. In June 2020, the board's profile and power changed dramatically. The Knox County Law Department put the health board in charge of making decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the county's response.

That put the board in the crosshairs of people opposed to mask mandates, business restrictions and other measures intended to blunt the tide of the COVID pandemic. The board, made up of local health professionals, is assailed as tyrannical and unaccountable. Supporters of the health board say unpopular decisions have to be made to protect the community. And state and local lawmakers are debating whether health boards should have any regulatory power at all.

But what does the Board of Health actually do? And how do politics influence its actions? Joining us in this edition of HealthConnections is Jesse Mayshark, co-founder and reporter with online journalism outlet Compass Knox. He covers county government, and will explain the board's recent history and authority.