A mask mandate in Hamilton County is being extended through March 31.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said wearing masks is a prime way to ward off the deadly coronavirus and said mask wearing has helped local businesses remain open.
He said as a result that sales tax collections are actually up and the property tax is at break even or better.
The county mayor said, "Hope is on the way, but we continue to see cases on the rise.
He added, "At one point we were bragging that our positive rate on COVID tests was around six percent. But now it's 18-20 percent positive."
However, County Mayor Coppinger said there have been improvements on COVID hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit numbers. We were near capacity just last month."
Becky Barnes, Health Department administrator, said, "The toll is so large that it's hard to grasp. We have now lost 319 people to COVID in Hamilton County."
Dr. Adam Soufleris, infection disease physician at Parkridge Hospital, and Dr. Mark Anderson, of CHI Memorial, both stressed the importance of mask wearing and staying out of group settings.
Dr. Soufleris said, "For a while, Tennessee was No. 1 in the world in new cases." He said Hamilton County "was seeing 300-400 cases a day, then it got to over 500."
However, he said, "There is a lot of room for optimism with the vaccine coming online. That has been truly a triumph of science."
But he said it may be "halfway through the year or the third of fourth quarter before we reach herd immunity."
Dr. Soufleris said, "It's time to get back into our bubbles. Hang in there and let's look for brighter days. I think they're on the way."
Dr. Anderson said, "We are seeing a remarkable transmission of COVID and this is likely to get worse" with a much more contagious variant now in the county that is "50-75 percent more contagious, and this one is pretty darn contagious."
He said, "This is a big deal for a lot of people."
He said he has taken the vaccine himself and feels it is safe.
Dr. Anderson noted that he has been very careful, but he came down with COVID himself from a family member who did not have symptoms.
He said, "Wearing a mask is a statement that you care for your fellow human beings."