Most Tennesseans say 'no, thanks' to masks amid COVID-19 pandemic

Health director says it's hard 'when it's hot and everybody's sweating,' but face coverings are effective at slowing the spread

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / "I only go out when I absolutely have to," Kathryn Wright says as she checks on her Uber after shopping at the Family Dollar on Market Street on Thursday, May 28, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. "I'm always nervous when I have to, not enough people are wearing masks".

Tennesseans are among the least likely in the United States to wear face coverings - one of the few tools known to help stop the spread of the coronavirus - according to a report released last week.

The lack of adherence to the mask guidelines comes despite infection of more than 36,000 people in the state, and at least 542 deaths in three months.

Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that while face mask use increased globally and in the United States between April 26 and June 13, face mask compliance in Tennessee declined.

In April, 20% to 30% of Tennesseans said they always wore a face mask when going out, compared to 10% to 20% who said the same in June. Indiana and Arizona were the only other states with the same low level of face mask use as Tennessee.