Tennessee health care professionals sign letter opposing Lee’s mask order

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee doctors are pushing back in opposition to an order by the state’s governor allowing parents to opt their children out of local school mask mandates.

Thousands have signed on to an open letter to Gov. Bill Lee posted online Tuesday. That letter says the opt-out provision threatens the public, and asks the governor to follow the science on masks.

“As trained healthcare providers, we strongly oppose Governor Lee’s Executive Order,” part of the letter stated. “Scientific evidence demonstrates that masks can decrease the spread of COVID-19. Scientific evidence demonstrates that children can be infected with COVID-19 and that children can spread the infection to adults. When community members – both adults and children – wear masks in the context of group settings, this action has the potential to decrease community spread of COVID-19.”

As of Tuesday evening, 2,690 people had signed the letter, with signatures that included nurses, doctors, pharmacists and specialists from Memphis to Johnson City.

Monday afternoon, Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order giving parents or guardians the ability to opt their child out of local health board requirements mandating masks. “No one cares more about the health and well-being of a child than a parent,” Lee said in a statement.

The announcement comes after multiple protests from parents in the state saying they should have a right to choose if their child wears a face covering. 

“Every child’s situation is different, and parents know what’s best for their children,” State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) wrote.

Some districts began allowing parents to opt out of masks for students. In Collierville, for example, 972 students, or a little more than 11% of the district’s student body, had opted out Tuesday, according to numbers supplied by the district.

But immediately, large public school districts like Shelby County and Metro Nashville began pushing back, saying they would continue to enforce masking guidelines for students and staff. SCS said its counsel was reviewing the legality of the governor’s order.

The Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also came out against the governor’s order, citing the number of children currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The governor’s office sent a statement in response to the opposition: “We expect counties and districts to follow the law.”

Tennessee reported 3,757 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. In the last 14 days, Tennessee reported 11,773 cases in children 5-18.

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