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10Listens: Cotton Eyed Joe owner responds after two concerts break Knox County Board of Health regulations

In Knox County, researchers said there's a 99% chance someone in a 100 person gathering will have COVID-19. Two concerts — with hundreds of people — went on anyway.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Chuck Ward, owner of Cotton Eyed Joe, is speaking out after two weekend concerts at his bar with little to no mask-wearing, no social distancing and going against county COVID regulations.

“It’s a business we’re trying to stay alive,” Ward said. "We had a show that people wanted to attend that they wanted to come to and watch."

Ward said most importantly it's not a desire to defy the law but to have a livelihood.

“The second reason we’re doing it is that we have a business that we have to keep open that we have payments that have to be made we have families that have to be fed,” Ward said.

In Knox County, the Board of Health has passed a series of COVID-19 regulations to help slow the spread. Those include limiting capacity at "all restaurants, bars and similar food and drink establishments" to 50 percent of occupancy, keeping six feet between parties from different households and closing to on-premise consumption at 10 p.m.

All of those rules were broken at Cotton Eyed Joes on Friday and Saturday night.

One viewer wrote to 10News calling the concerts a "two-day super spreader event." That could be true, according to a risk calculator tool from researchers at Georgia Tech University. 

As of Sunday evening, the tool showed a gathering of 100 people in Knox County has a 99 percent chance of having a COVID-19 positive person in attendance. The concerts had hundreds more than that — and few masks or social distancing. 

Another viewer said it is "unbelievable that this is going on New Year's night with hospitals full of sick people and COVID rampant... Hundreds of people with no masks or social distancing. What about the local restrictions that were obviously ignored?"

The bar was not cited because the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has declined to enforce board of health regulations and the Cotton Eyed Joe falls within their jurisdiction. 

In the City of Knoxville, establishments are subject to $50 fines and could lose their beer licenses. At least two businesses are facing lengthy suspensions for repeatedly violating the ordinance. 

For Chuck Ward, he said shutting down is not an option. He said the new restrictions aren't fair. 

“We’re are being discriminated against as bars. End of the story,” Ward said. “I give up my life to run that bar and we got to stay open.".

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