This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, with more information.
Standing between two large printouts — one of a quote supporting mask mandates, the other a chart showing how much lower case counts are in counties with mandates from a recent Vanderbilt University study — Coppinger renewed his mandate for a third time.
"We want to be totally transparent and no one — not one of these physicians or anyone — said that the masks were going to be 100% [effective]," Coppinger said, noting that the county has experienced 127 deaths and is currently sitting at a testing positivity rate of around 14%, or more than double that reported at his most recent news conference in October.
"But we do know from the experts and science that it's airborne," he said, holding up a mask. "So it only stands to reason that this is going to offer a good deal of protection."
The mandate, now in effect through Jan. 15, requires people to wear masks in most public settings to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Emily and Melissa Baskette tearfully shared the story of the loss of husband and father Michael Baskette, who was a friend of Coppinger's.
"We weren't allowed to go see him, touch him. We had to care for him from a very long distance," Emily said of her father, who died after a monthlong battle with COVID-19.
"Who likes to see their family members like that? Nobody," she said. "He had to lay up there lonely with people who were trying to take care of him."
Through tears, she asked the community to wear a mask and save a life, like her father's.
"Everyone please do your part to prevent the spread of this virus so you don't get left heartbroken like our family is," she said. "Please everyone wear a mask and protect others."
"My husband did his part," Emily added, noting that Michael Baskette wore a mask and used hand sanitizer. "He wanted to protect you, and someone out there didn't protect him."
"Every time Jim implements the mask mandate for a longer time, I send him a thank you note," Melissa added.
'CELEBRATE LIKE CRAZY IN 2021'
Coppinger, along with several medical professionals and members of the community, pleaded for locals to not only wear masks, but respect the severity of the impact of the virus overall.
"This scenario is exceedingly concerning, and that's a euphemism. Some of the other words I'd use are probably not medically professional," infectious disease specialist Adam Soufleris said during the news conference, urging citizens to skip holiday events and other social gatherings with people outside of their immediate "bubble," or household.
"We always have 25 at our house for Thanksgiving. This year? Two. My wife and I," Soufleris said, recognizing that many families will continue to gather.
Soufleris recommended outdoor gatherings, masks when people are not eating, keeping physical distance among individuals, testing before visiting family and other precautionary measures if people gather, but doubled down on his recommendation to stay apart.
"Please, this Thanksgiving, call your family. Zoom or FaceTime with them, but don't eat with them. Don't go inside with your grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews," Dr. David Bruce said, also encouraging testing before seeing family. "Celebrate with just your small family. Don't extend it. I want your family to be around for Christmas."
"I really don't believe we'll be doing this same thing next year," he said. "Do this in 2020 and let's celebrate like crazy in 2021."
The renewal is also meant to protect the economy, schools and sense of normalcy in the county.
Hotelier Ken DeFoor implored citizens to wear masks to encourage business.
"We have to act on what we know. We have to go with our facts," he said, citing local death and case data.
Superintendent Bryan Johnson said Thursday that the schools have stayed in the "transitional" phase of phase 3, in which schools are closed and cleaned as needed, but could dip back into phase 2, in which students go only two days a week into classrooms. After Thanksgiving, high school students are expected to switch to a hybrid schedule.
"If COVID is in our community, it's in our schools," Johnson said.
Johnson said 41% of total in-school cases are in high schools, though that only accounts for around a quarter of the total students.
He said the district will reconsider the numbers after Thanksgiving for a final determination of what to do in the last stretch of the semester and before school resumes in January.
"Our teachers, our principals, our staff and obviously medical professionals will guide us," he said.