Gov. Bill Lee announces order limiting gatherings as Tennessee’s COVID-19 surge continues

Updated: Dec. 20, 2020 at 10:36 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivered a primetime address Sunday focused on the state’s COVID-19 surge.

As Lee acknowledged how important time with family is, especially during the holidays, he strongly discouraged Tennesseans from gathering this Christmas. He also announced a new executive order that will limit public gatherings to no more than 10 people. He did not however specify what would happen if someone was to violate that order.

“Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Lee said.

He also said attendance to indoor sporting events will be limited as well to “blunt the rise of cases.”

Lee continued and asked business owners to allow employees to work remotely for 30 days.

The governor stopped short of issuing a mandatory mask order but said, “Masks work. And I want every Tennessean to wear one.”

He did mention that 70 percent of Tennessee is under a mask mandate. He also said 80 percent of Tennessee report they wear a mask at least 80 percent of the time.

Lee’s decision to not enforce a statewide mask mandate did not sit well with all of his fellow state leaders.

Senator Raumesh Akbari took her frustrations to Twitter saying, “We needed real & decisive action and we got the exact opposite tonight.”

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer also expressed disappointment in Lee deciding not to enforce a statewide mask order.

The Tennessee Department of Health also addressed growing COVID-19 concerns Sunday during a media call.

Dr. Lisa Piercy, Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Health, discussed the seriousness of hospital capacity in the state.

Currently, Tennessee has the highest infection rate in the country– over 40 percent higher than the national average.

It usually takes between 10 – 14 days to see the rise in hospitalizations; it usually happens between day 5 and day 8.

The case surge we’re seeing is due to gatherings from the Thanksgiving holiday. Piercey is concerned this will happen again during Christmas and New Years, and if it does, hospitals will be incredibly overwhelmed.

For perspective– “Even on a good day, a lot of hospitals stay at a 70 percent – 80 percent occupancy range,” she said. And it’s not hard for those occupancy numbers to get over 90 percent.

Currently, the state has almost 3,000 hospital patients with the virus. More than 750 patients are in ICU care.

COVID-19 patients now account for 25 percent of all in-patient beds statewide and 40 percent of all ICU beds statewide. Some regions are even higher than those numbers.

“There are no more staff members to spend money on because they are all at the bedside,” Piercy said.

She says they’ve tried to deploy other measures, including deploying medically trained National Guard staff.

32 members of DEMAT, or Disaster Management Aid Team, are working in the state. Those workers are deployed to 2 hospitals in northwest Tennessee.

Two hospitals ran out of ventilators. Piercy also said they’ve had two requests for emergency ventilator supplies.

They sent ventilators to one hospital; the other received rentals. Both of these hospitals were in West Tennessee.

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