Coronavirus in Tennessee: What Gov. Lee said about state’s COVID-19 response


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee gave an update Monday afternoon on the COVID-19 response in Tennessee.

Lee asked schools to close, exhorted people to avoid crowded bars and said the state was seeking more ventilators as part of his administration’s efforts to confront the new coronavirus.

“We believe the more Tennesseans are reminded of their individual role, the more likely it is that we can slow the spread of this disease,” Lee told reporters. “Peoples’ lives are depending on it, their livelihoods are depending on it and I encourage Tennesseans to pray for our state.”

Lee said he was holding back from mandating school closings because every district may not have the same concerns. But he added he believed every school will eventually temporarily close by the end of the week.

“Schools should remain closed through March 31, 2020 to further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease and we will issue further guidance prior to March 31,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

Tennessee’s Department of Education will work with school districts deciding to close, promising guidance soon on how to shut facilities with the least disruption to “academic instruction as well as critical meal and other services for students,” officials said.

Additionally, the education department has set up a hotline for school district officials to help provide further information.

Tennessee joins a growing list of states that has seen statewide school closures over the past week, including Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Even though most patients infected with the virus have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, school closures are widely accepted as a key way to slow the spread.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

As of Monday, Tennessee had 52 confirmed virus cases. Twenty-five were in Davidson County, 18 in Williamson County and two in Shelby County. Single cases have been found in Campbell, Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, Rutherford, Sevier and Sullivan counties.

Lee repeatedly stressed Monday that he did not believe statewide mandates were necessarily the proper response to changing public behavior in avoiding large crowds. Instead, he called on the public to step up and help their neighbors where they could — ranging from offering to help provide child care or check in on persons who have a higher risk of getting the virus.

This issue has taken hold in Nashville, where the city agreed Sunday to close bars and limit restaurant capacity in the country music capital to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

One owner of Lower Broadway’s high-profile honky tonks initially vowed to defy Nashville’s order, but eventually conceded to close in compliance.

“Certainly, we hope that as this unfolds, there won’t be a need for enforcement of Tennesseans to comply with keeping people in our state from dying,” Lee said.

Along with urging schools to close and people to avoid crowded areas, the state has also tapped the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to acquire more ventilators, as well work with the federal government for any additional funding to buy necessary supplies.

Ventilators are critical for COVID-19 patients who are severely ill because doctors use them to help patients breathe or a machine that pumps and oxygenates their blood outside the body, easing the burden on the heart and lungs.

Also Monday, Lee joined the top leaders of the GOP-dominated Statehouse to announce lawmakers would only meet to pass the state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year and limit all other legislative business. The goal is to pass the spending plan in the next week before recessing for at least eight weeks.

“Passing an amended budget now and recessing will allow the General Assembly to focus on an immediate plan of action, while still determining needs down the road,” the statement read.

At least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, declined to participate in Monday’s legislative activities. She said she was following federal guidelines to limit interacting with groups of 10 people or more.

It was unclear how many other colleagues might be doing the same.

Just days earlier, Lee had halted all nonessential business travel for state employees and banned visitors and tours from the state Capitol.

Along with the Capitol, top lawmakers also agreed to close the state’s legislative office building to the public beginning Monday. Legislative staffers over the age of 60 or those with chronic medical illnesses, however, were encouraged to stay home.

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