Knox County Public Library board members unanimously approved a motion to require staff and patrons to wear masks inside the library’s facilities in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The move came at Tuesday’s regular meeting after the group met with county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart to discuss KCPL’s health and safety plans moving forward.

It was director Emily Bunyan who directly asked Stewart whether or not — given the recent uptick in cases — the public library should continue with a “masks optional policy for patrons” or move to something more stringent.

“Ideally, I’d make it mandatory,” Stewart responded, adding that “if we would all just wear masks, we could probably cut this thing in half in about a month.”

Knox County reached a total of 91 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday.

It was board president Yvette Kirchoff who called for a motion for mandatory masking, and, acknowledging the possible public backlash to the new policy, said “we’ll take it as it comes.”

Thanking the library for their leadership in efforts to fight the virus over the past several months, Stewart said, “the more places that (institute a masking policy), the more comfortable other places will be to follow suit — the more easily people will just put on their masks when they go into a building, instead of making it a political thing.”

Explaining that face coverings, when worn properly over the nose and mouth, stop the spread of respiratory droplets, Stewart said masks are one of the best preventative measures of spreading the virus.

“I’m convinced the number of virus particles you’re infected with makes a difference,” he said. “So if you breathe in and get hit with a million particles at once, your body doesn’t have time to respond.

“But if you only get hit with ten virus particles, your body has time to mount an immune response,” said Stewart of a theory that’s gaining more ground with infectious disease experts.

And, he says, though there are signs the virus is mutating and becoming less virulent, there are also indications that its mutations are making it more contagious, “latching on harder than ever” Stewart said.

The board also approved, with Dr. Stewart’s blessing, a motion to reopen its meeting rooms to the public but with restrictions in place.

Board members agreed that, among other guidelines, they won’t allow the Fortnightly Clubhouse on Sixth Street to be used for large-scale gatherings, such as birthday parties or wedding receptions.

Stewart also recommended placing a cap on the number of people allowed into each meeting or event space at one time and not allowing back-to-back use. Instead, the library will implement a 24-hour hold between uses.

In other news, the library board celebrated some good news, including the near completion of its main building’s renovation, which began in March and resulted in new flooring, cabinetry and furnishings, among other changes.

Architect Larry Donovan, of Donovan and Donovan, said the interior work is “99.9% done, with just a couple of loose ends to tie up.”

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