Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee addresses vaccines, masking as COVID-19 cases surge in the state

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee is currently a red state, literally. Every county is in the red on the New York Times’ COVID tracker map showing the latest date from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

COVID-19 is spreading so quickly in the Volunteer State. Right now, Tennessee is number one in the nation and number two in the world for most new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

During a media briefing Thursday, September 2, Governor Bill Lee stood by his controversial mask order even as the virus rages through the state.

“We believe masks work, and if you want to protect your kid against the COVID virus, one tool that you would have is to send your kid to school with a mask,” Lee said.

Lee said he believes masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in the same breath, he doubled down on his executive order allowing parents to opt their kids out of wearing a mask at school.

He did this after talking with the CEO of St. Jude and with doctors from the Tennessee chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of whom advocate mandatory masking up in school.

“We agree that we don’t agree on every issue, but that there are many things we agree on that we’ll try to work on together,” Lee said.

The Tennessee Department of Health said children represent the demographic with the largest number of new cases right now. The Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force said that 38 percent of the 531 cases diagnosed Thursday in Shelby County are in children.

“Fortunately our hospitals in Memphis and West Tennessee are starting to see a little bit of leveling off,” said Tennessee Health Commissioners Dr. Lisa Piercey. “They’re still critically full, but they’re starting to see it slow down just a little bit.”

Hospitals in Middle and East Tennessee are now starting to see the strain. Piercey said National Guard members have been deployed to 16 hospitals, and the state provided $10 million to hire more staff.

The message from the Lee administration moving forward through the pandemic:

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated now,” said Piercy.

“I’m very encouraged by the fact we do have and have had, about 150,000 or so Tennesseans get a vaccine in the last week,” Lee said. “This is the best tool we have to fight the pandemic and we encourage Tennesseans to get the vaccine.”

Lee had no comment about the lawsuits filed against him by Shelby County Schools and parents, or the federal investigation opened by the U.S. Department of Education over his mask opt-out order.

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