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Roundup: Mask Troubles; Plans for Late July Graduation Ceremonies


As Knox County Reopens, Many Aren't Following Mask Guidelines

The CDC and Knox county health department recommend wearing a mask to protect yourself and others in public. Studies show the effectiveness of masks increases exponentially when both parties in an interaction are wearing them. But as Knox County has begun reopening, not everyone is interested in following these guidelines.

An informal assessment by the Knox News Sentinel of 500 people in public in Knoxville and Gatlinburg found that just 18% of people were wearing masks. County health department director Martha Buchanan said she has seen the trend as well.

“We certainly have seen people that are not in agreement with our recommendations here locally and nationally," Buchanan said. "People frequently disagree with health recommendations. We know that these recommendations are based on science and data and so we stand by our recommendations for social distancing."

The Knox County Health Department received more than 19,000 cloth masks this week from the state health department, according to county health department director Martha Buchannan. She said the reusable masks are very different than most masks she has seen. They are being produced by Renfro Corp., a North Carolina-based sock company. 

Anyone who needs a mask can go to the main KCHD building on Dameron Avenue during business hours. One mask will be given per person and the person must be present to get a mask. Health Department officials note they are not medical masks.


Zoo Plans to Reopen This Month

Zoo Knoxville announced they expect to reopen this month. Zoo President and CEO Lisa New said May 18th is the target date for reopening to a limited number of visitors. They will be offering admission to the zoo through online ticket sales and telephone reservations only. 

In a https://vimeo.com/415149064?fbclid=IwAR3NPJEi2L3xz5BmOxr0SeDWe1eauZ654aLURSfxxoiWPswL1y_KVMnKhhg" style="background-color: transparent;">video announcing the reopening plans, New said the park will be open for passive use only. Most buildings and playgrounds will remain closed and all Zoo staff will be wearing masks. The zoo is encouraging visitors to wear masks as well, but will not be providing them for free. 

The zoo had previously announced their expenses to care for the animals during COVID-19 closures was $189,000 per week. In early April, the city council approved a budget measure that gave Zoo Knoxville $700,000. These funds were intended to enable the zoo to function through June 30, 2020. The zoo had previously received $100,000 in emergency city funds at the end of March, and an additional $500,000 loan from the county. 

Knox County Schools Planning for Late July Graduation Ceremonies

Knox County Schools plans to hold graduation ceremonies during the last week of July and the first week of August. The planned ceremonies will take place at school football fields or World's Fair Park pavilion. However, they will be closed to both families and the public due to CDC and Knox County Health Department guidelines. Graduations will be recorded and live-streamed for on-demand viewing, according to an announcement from Thomas during a Board of Education work session on Wednesday.

Not everyone is happy about it. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs spoke out against this plan. He wrote on Twitter, "These kids have worked 12 years for this moment and I don’t think it’s right to deprive them of that, or parents of their pride in being there.”

County Health Director Martha Buchanan said decisions about graduation ceremonies will come down to the spread of the coronavirus in the coming months. 

"It’s up to our community whether we are able to have graduation in July. We need our community to follow those 5 principles. Wash your hands, wear a cloth face covering, practice social distancing, clean surfaces regularly and stay home if you feel sick.”