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“We are in a war” Tennessee grapples with surge in COVID-19 cases in the state

Tennessee Governor Declares war on COVID-19 surge

By Tamas Mondovics
Editor
 
As if it wasn’t crystal clear already, the reality of the pandemic hit too close to home for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee last Saturday after his wife Maria tested positive for COVID-19. 
When confirmed, Lee released the following statement: “Maria began exhibiting mild symptoms of COVID-19, and it was confirmed this afternoon that she has tested positive. I am feeling well with no symptoms and have tested negative for COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, I will be quarantined at the Governor’s Residence.”
The following day on Sunday, December 20 at 7:00 p.m.—as planned—Gov. Lee delivered a statewide address to Tennesseans regarding the COVID-19 surge.  
   In part, Lee stated, “Good evening, Tennesseans. It’s Christmas week, ordinarily a time when families across the state are gathering to celebrate. Unfortunately, these are not ordinary times. We are in a global pandemic that’s been crippling our country for months, and now Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness. I am speaking with you tonight because I want to be clear with where we are and what we need to do together to get through this. 
We now have around 10,000 Tennesseans getting sick every day. To put that in perspective, that’s three times where we were around Halloween. Thousands of our neighbors are in the hospital tonight. More than 100 people are dying each day. We are in a war. With the arrival of the first vaccine, we have launched an offensive that will end this war. But it is the next few weeks that is going to be the most critical for our state. 
 We have seen firsthand that Thanksgiving gatherings and extended time indoors have been the principal driver in spreading COVID-19 like wildfire. It only took a
matter of days to see gatherings around Thanksgiving translate into a record level of sickness. Tennessee cannot sustain a similar surge after Christmas or New Year’s. Tonight, I am asking
you to make some hard decisions. 
 I am asking you to not engage in indoor gatherings for the holidays that include anyone outside your household. Family time and celebrations are important. I understand deeply how much Tennessee families need each other. But we must do all that we can to blunt this surge and keep more Tennesseans from getting sick. 
But beyond family gatherings and what I am asking you to do in your own home, we need to address public gatherings through these important weeks, as well…” (see rest of statement following this story)
  At the same time, Gov. Lee announced his signing of an executive order to implement the following:
•Indoor public gatherings limited to 10 people
•Indoor sporting events limited (he did not specify a gathering limit)
•Employees to work from home for the next 30 days if possible; if not, masks should be worn at all times
While urging Tennesseans to “only gather with your household and wear a mask,” Gov. Lee said he would not be implementing a statewide mask mandate a sore subject with the Tennessee Medical Association, the state’s largest professional association for physicians.
In part, TMA stated: “The physicians of the Tennessee Medical Association have consistently recommended that mask requirement orders be issued in all counties with (as of Monday) over ten new cases per 100,000 population per day. Since the best county in Tennessee at present has over 80 new cases/100,000/day over the past seven days, we believe all Tennessee counties should be under mask requirement orders at this time.”
TMA agreed with Gov. Lee, emphasizing that the “next several weeks will be a critical time for Tennessee regarding the COVID pandemic. We expect serious illnesses and deaths to significantly increase in the coming weeks. We plead with all Tennesseans to stay safe, stay apart, wear masks, and stay home to protect their families and friends from this deadly virus.”
Wasting no time, and in response to Governor Bill Lee’s refusal to issue a state-wide mask requirement, Tennessee Democratic Party chair, Mary Mancini also released a statement:
 “Tennessee is the number one hot spot for transmission of the coronavirus in the entire world, we’ve seen an 89 percent increase in cases in the last 14 days, and more people are dying than ever before. Even though we are in the middle of a crisis spiraling out of control, Governor Lee has refused to issue a state-wide mask requirement. Even though it might be unpopular, Tennessee needs decisive leadership and real action because we are, in the words of Governor Lee himself, ‘ground zero’ for the nation in this moment of the pandemic. A requirement that every Tennessean wear a mask when indoors at stores and restaurants and outdoors when unable to maintain 6 feet of distance is a clear directive that could guide
actions and save lives. By once again refusing, Bill Lee has failed to meet the challenge of this serious health crisis.”
 That COVID-19 has surged in the state with a vengeance; there is little doubt. However, the question over the reality of the pandemic and its ravenous hunger to claim more lives is also being answered.  
Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor said, “In the Governor’s most recent address he rightly pointed out that we are living in extraordinary times. There is not an easy solution. Short of having a mask mandate, I implore each of us to follow his direction to wear our masks in public places and continue to socially distance. We will see this through, but we must take responsibility for self and be mindful of others.” More information is available at www.tnmed.org. 
Please see Gov. Lee’s statement continue below: