TN governor: State’s role is to encourage COVID vaccinations, not mandate

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in unvaccinated people, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee encouraged residents to get vaccinated during a press conference on Thursday in Nashville.

“The most effective tool against COVID, including the Delta variant, is the vaccine and we encourage Tennesseans to pursue that,” Lee said.

The state has reported a growth in positive COVID-19 cases since late June. The CDC said July 20 that the Delta variant is responsible for 83% of current cases. In Knox County, cases have doubled during the past week, with the health department warning that the trend could continue. Lee said he has no plans for restrictions but does have plans to continue encouraging Tennesseans to get vaccinated.

“We continue to be very diligent in monitoring the situation. We had an increase in hospitalizations. We know that we have COVID with us for the foreseeable future and we will continue to manage that.”

Last month, Lee said there was ‘no real concern’ over the virus.

“We obviously will always look for changes but as we see it now, the health crisis that we have is no longer a crisis we have a health situation that we are managing,” Lee told reporters in Nashville in early June.

Lee said 63,000 vaccines were administered in Tennessee this week, a trend he said needs to continue. In Tennessee, about 38% of residents reported being fully vaccinated as of July 8, among the lowest in the nation.

When asked about his responsibility in increasing vaccination rates in the state, Lee said he has a responsibility “to stand before the press and encourage Tennesseans to get a vaccine.”

“I’ve done that from the beginning and I’ll keep doing that. It is their personal decision to do so, the government isn’t going to coerce or mandate them to do that,” he said. “I fact when he government sends that message, I feel it makes people freer to make that decision.”

Lee added that Tennesseans need to be reminded on a regular basis that vaccines are available for free and can be easily found. He said people who are uncertain about getting the vaccine should speak about it with people they trust: family, doctors, the clergy or “whomever is the most important people in their life.”

Earlier, the state came under fire for ending the marketing of vaccines for children and teens. Tennessee fired its top vaccine official amid the Department of Health’s efforts to promote COVID vaccinations among teens. Lee said had he been consulted about the marketing campaign. he would have said the state “doesn’t need to do that.”

“We should in no way be messaging to children. I’m glad the department took that route. I don’t believe we should be marketing or messaging children,” Lee said.

Lee also said he doesn’t believe masks should be required in schools this fall. Lee also said he doesn’t believe schools should require masks this fall but it is a decision that districts should make.

“That is a district decision in this state, but I suspect most districts won’t require masks and I support that.,” Lee said.

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