McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said he sees things similarly to McMinn County Mayor John Gentry when it comes to mandating masks as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“I agree with Mayor Gentry and I think the governor was wise to leave the decision up to local authorities,” Guy said. “Realistically there just isn’t a way to enforce a mask mandate.”
He stated he respects the businesses who wish for their patrons to wear masks.
“I think they have the right to make that request the same way they ask for customers to wear shirts and shoes,” Guy said. “They should have the right to make that request, but it should not be a law enforcement issue.”
He believes that people should err on the side of caution and choose to wear masks due to the amount of unknown about the virus.
“We don’t know enough to know exactly how it is being passed around, but we do know that it is being passed around, so anything that every individual citizen can do to reduce their chances of contracting this virus or unintentionally spreading it is something that we should choose to do,” stated Guy. “Those practices could be as simple as washing our hands more frequently, practicing social distancing or simply wearing a mask.”
According to Guy, the efforts of the community to combat the virus has shown by keeping the number of cases relatively low.
He said there would be quite a bit of difficulties that would be associated with trying to enforce a mandate that required the use of masks in public.
“It would be almost impossible,” expressed Guy. “First of all it would be a misdemeanor and a misdemeanor cannot be enforced or prosecuted unless it occurs in an officer’s presence.”
Even if the sheriff’s department received calls from concerned citizens informing them of someone not obeying a mask law, the department would be unable to act upon it.
“An officer might be stationed at the courthouse or a public building and be able to enforce the use of masks at the entrance, but that is just about it,” Guy noted. “If enough manpower is available it may be able to be enforced at a public event, but as far as just in the general public is concerned, it just is not feasible to ask law enforcement to intrude on people’s freedoms.”
Should a mask mandate be instituted, Guy stated that they would only try to enforce it in public spaces and not anyone who is on private property.
“It goes against my conservative values to try to tell people how to live on their own private property,” said Guy. “I think public property is something that we would have to enforce, in the worst case scenario, but that would probably be the limit of my enforcement.”
Though masks are not being mandated, officers with the MCSD are encouraged to wear masks when dealing with the public.
“We have requested that our deputies use masks when face to face with people if they cannot social distance,” stated Guy. “Our staff are using masks inside our jail and we have built up a good supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our officers.”
Protective precautions are also in place inside of the office should the need arise.
“I wear a mask while in the office because my concern isn’t about me getting sick, my concern lies upon me spreading it to other people if I did get sick,” Guy expressed. “If you don’t do it for yourself then do it for the people around you.”
Guy shared a story of his son, who has Lymphoma, who was recently admitted to the hospital for treatments.
According to Guy, hospitals are currently limiting the number of people who can visit those admitted.
“I don’t think people realize that if you get sick or if somebody you care about gets sick then you or they will have to go into the hospital alone,” Guy said. “Unless you are a small child they won’t let anybody go with you and when you are able to visit they tend to only allow one or two family members in at a time in a 24 hour period and if it is two family members they cannot be in there at the same time.”
His decision to share the story was brought about due to concern for citizens who may not have been aware.
“The hospitals are just doing what they can to limit exposure, but by doing so you don’t get to go in with your sick family member anymore — at least while this (virus) is going on,” stated Guy. “So by taking precautions and protecting yourself and the people around you, you are reducing the chances that you or a loved one is alone in an emergency room or hospital.”