By: Caitlin Burt
As cities across the United States rise in COVID cases, Chattanooga is ranked number two in the New York Times list of “places that could flare up next.”
Before Tennessee Governor Bill Lee ordered the state to reopen, Mayor Andy Berke planned to keep the city under quarantine through a shelter-in-place order to keep coronavirus from spreading, even though the number of cases were still increasing.
“I made clear what we should do,” said Berke, during a press conference in May. “That isn’t what we did, and now my job is to help mitigate where we are.”
With Chattanooga reopened, those who are not following social distancing guidelines or are a part of the “anti-maskers” put vulnerable communities at risk. In April, some citizens showed their disdain for the city’s and state’s response through protesting in downtown Chattanooga by not social distancing and not wearing a mask. The protesters believed their constitutional rights were attacked from the government’s restrictions. With certain community members choosing to opt-out of precautionary measures those who take the toll are essential workers and other vulnerable groups.
The community who have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus are Latinx people. Despite being 6% of the population, they make up 65% of the positive tests. Part of Chattanooga’s Latinx community makes up a part of essential workers in the city, and they live in multi-generational homes, which makes the spread of infection quicker.
On July 10 through September 8, Mayor Berke issued a mask mandate in Hamilton County in an effort to help control and prevent the spread of the virus. Those who choose to not follow the mandate could be charged of a Class C misdemeanor offense, with a potential penalty of a $50 fine or 30 days in jail. In a video the Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy posted, he encouraged citizens to wear their mask, but took a more passive approach about giving citations.
“I do not believe that enforcement is the necessary path to do that,” said Roddy. “So, your Chattanooga police officers will not be issuing any citations relative to non-compliance on masks.”
After watching Chief Roddy’s video, some Chattanooga residents were unhappy with the laid-back approach to holding citizens accountable to the mask mandate.
“Mayor Berke did this for a reason,” said Monica Irizarry. “It is ignorant to not wear your mask because it is telling the people around you that you do not care about them or the pandemic. You fail to do your part for your community by not wearing a mask, and instead of facing consequences they will just get away with it.”