Tennessee county commissioners move to strip health board's powers

Tennessee county commissioners move to strip health board's powers
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A Tennessee county commission has voted to dissolve the powers of the county's local health board, moving to reduce its authority to an advisory role as the state faces a spike in COVID-19 cases.

After a nearly eight-hour meeting on Tuesday, the Knox County Commission voted 6-4-1 to approve an ordinance limiting the health board to an advisory capacity, local CBS affiliate WVLT reported.

Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan spoke out against the move, which comes amid a dispute over who should make policy decisions amid a raging pandemic.


“It’s like approaching a wildfire and asking who should hold the hose,” she said.

“Despite living in the worst place for COVID-19 the world, several commissioners took the first step in dissolving the Board of Health and dismantling our health infrastructure,” Knox County Commission Chairman Larsen Jay said in a Facebook post. “I cringe at what January will look like in our community."

The ordinance passed Tuesday must advance at another county commission meeting on Jan. 25 in order to take effect.

On Sunday, Tennessee ranked the worst in the U.S. in terms of new coronavirus cases. The state fell back to No. 2 on Tuesday, behind Oklahoma, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) has acknowledged the grim position facing the Volunteer State and on Sunday urged people to wear a face covering in public but stopped short of ordering mask use. He also announced public gatherings would now be limited to 10 people. The restrictions are set to expire on Jan. 19 and do not apply to at-home events or churches.

Throughout the pandemic, medical professionals across Tennessee have pleaded with Lee to take stronger action against the pandemic. The governor, who was elected in 2018 without having held a previous government position, has largely opted to leave the decisions on COVID-19 restrictions to local governments.

“We need concrete steps taken to get the virus under control. We need you to find the political courage to do your part, and stand up," Tennessee physician Aaron Milstone told local media while addressing Lee.