On the evening of July 1, 2020, the Knox County Board of Health (“Board”) voted 7-1 to approve a new order mandating the wearing of masks in all indoor public places located in Knox County, Tennessee. This afternoon, the Board issued the order (“Order”), effective July 3, 2020, requiring that no person age 12 and older be within 6 feet of another person (other than a person residing in the same household) in any indoor public place without wearing a face covering. The order is very broad in defining “indoor public place” such that it includes: private offices, work areas, employee lounges, restrooms, conference rooms, hallways, vehicles, and any “health care facility.”
Our clients should understand that the definition of an “indoor public place” specifically includes (among others) health care facilities, professional offices, elevators, hallways, common use enclosed areas, conference rooms, lobbies, restrooms, and waiting rooms. A “health care facility” includes your medical, dental or psychology office or facility, along with its waiting rooms, hallways, private rooms, semi-private rooms, and wards within health care facilities. Since any medical office or health care facility meets the definition of an “indoor public place” compliance with the Order means requiring all employees and patients to wear a face covering any time that they cannot be at least 6 feet apart. There are a number of exceptions to the mask mandate, but the one most relevant for our clients allows for the temporary removal of a person’s face covering if the treating provider determines it is necessary to provide the treatment or care.
The Order also requires that all indoor public places place a sign at every entrance stating that face coverings are required when within 6 feet of another person. A person or entity who owns, operates or manages an “indoor public place” where the wearing of face coverings is required by the Order and Medical practices who “knowingly” fails to comply with the Order may be subject to action by the Knox County Health Department, including the revocation, suspension, or imposition of conditions on licenses or permits. Individuals who violate the mask mandate may be charged with a Class C misdemeanor – although there are some public officials who have questioned the constitutionality of the Order, and we would not be surprised if private citizens seek judicial action to enjoin its enforcement.
This Order remains in effect indefinitely, until amended, superseded or rescinded by the Knox County Health Department.
The COVID-19 pandemic and response is an evolving situation. All levels of government are engaged in the process of preparing new legislation, regulations and orders both to stem the spread of the virus and to provide relief to employers and employees. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as applicable, especially as such updates affect healthcare providers and their practices. For more updates on this topic and other legal updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 Legal Resource Page by clicking