NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Dr. Deborah Birx of the White Hosue Coronavirus Task Force urged Tennessean on Monday to wear masks to slow the spread of the virus as the state saw cases increase by 2,553 from Sunday to 96.489 — an increase of 2.7%

Deaths rose by 11 to 978, an increase of 1.1%. Knox County reported three new virus-related deaths on Monday.

“If every mayor throughout this great state would mandate masks, close the bars, and substantially increase indoor dining distancing, together, we can get through this,” Birx pleaded during a news conference.

There are currently 4,280 reported hospitalizations and 57,239 recoveries, according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health. There have been 1,410,396 virus tests done.

“We’ve done a lot of modeling,” Birx said. “We have found that if you all wear masks, all Tennesseans, in every public area, and you protect the individuals with comorbidities; if you stop going to bars, and indeed close the bars, and limit your indoor dining that you can have — and need to social distance and wash your hands — that we can have as big an impact on decreasing new cases as what we had with sheltering in place.”

She called on rural mayors in particular to urge citizens to wear masks.

“Basically, I have come to Tennessee as I have from Indiana to Ohio to Kentucky because of the spread of the virus in this area, and what has really worried us is this particular wave of the COVID virus is very different than the way that we experienced in March and April,” Birx said.

“I know Nashville and Memphis both had experiences with that wave in March in April, which was very much the major metros of Tennessee and the surrounding bedroom communities,” she said.

“This spread, however, is equally across the state into rural areas, peri-urban areas, small cities, and of course your major metros. And that is what has been the most concerning to us is to watch that broad spread across the state — very similar to what they experienced across our southern United States.”

Many of the new cases are from the under 35-year-old age group, she noted. Many of them were asymptomatic and spread the virus unknowingly to others, she added.

“So I really came to talk to the governor about how important it was for every rural Tennessean to wear a mask,” she said. “It is in all of your rural counties. I know some of you find the mask uncomfortable. So do I. I put it on at 8 a.m. this morning. I haven’t taken it off since I do this out of respect for each one of you …” she said. “And so every Tennessean today, in order to be able to get back to school, in order to ensure businesses stay open. Every Tennessean whether you live in a rural area or urban area, needs to wear a mask, to protect your family, to protect your grandmother, your grandfather, your aunts, their uncles, who we know can have very serious consequences to this disease.

“This is what’s possible. We have our freedoms, we can go out, we can socially distance in specific restaurants and be distant from one another and protect one another. And we can have SEC football if together, we decrease the case numbers.”