Lee defends stopping short of statewide stay-at-home order

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 29, 2020 2:48 PM CT | Published: March 27, 2020 5:05 PM CT

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee Friday, March 27, defended stopping short of a statewide stay-at-home emergency declaration, calling it “the right approach, the right decision at the right time for the right place.”

Lee commented at Memphis International Airport as he moved the state government’s daily COVID-19 briefing from Nashville to Memphis. At the briefing, state officials announced six people have died from COVID-19 in the state.

Lee: A ‘surge’ is coming

The briefing followed a meeting in-person and online with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, representatives of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Shelby County Health Dept. director Alisa Haushalter and state Rep. Mark White.

“These are the decisions that require real discernment. We know that for every business that closes, jobs are lost and livelihoods are powerfully impacted,” he said when asked specifically about the differences between states with aggressive stay-at-home declarations and those without such declarations. And he said he is not ruling out stricter measures in the future depending on the course the pandemic takes in the state.

“We are to a great degree shut down as a state,” Lee said. “Every major population area has a stay-at-home order. The most populous counties in our state are all covered by stay-at-home orders. Every restaurant, dining room, every school, every bar in Tennessee is closed.”

Lee has also formed a “unified command group” of officials from the state health department, the Tennessee National Guard and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency who were in Memphis for the meeting before the briefing.

Major General Jeff H. Holmes, the state’s adjutant general and commander of the Tennessee National Guard, has mobilized 250 guardsmen this week with 150 deployed across that state including six counties in West Tennessee.

That effort is built around combat medics, nurses and nurse practitioners as well as the 164th Airlift Wing group of the Guard based in Memphis to assist with public health duties where needed with groups of three to four in effect scouting areas for needs.

“That’s going to be our heavy forward force,” Holmes said Friday. “They are also going to be very agile. That gives us the ability to put forces on the ground and then maneuver them as needed, based on need.”

Holmes said the effort is leaving reservists who are medical providers in the civilian sector instead of calling them for Guard duty.

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Lee said the goal is “a connected stream of communication between Shelby County and the state, that we are sharing information, being transparent so that we can all work on this together.”

Unemployment crisis: State jobless numbers jump, 4,355 claims in greater Memphis

That includes a response to record new claims for unemployment last week nationally, statewide and in Shelby County.

The state is also pushing Tennesseans to change their social behavior with slogans similar to those used by Strickland who has urged Memphians to “come together to stay apart.”

For Lee the slogan is “Do your part to stay apart.”

Governor: State working with Vanderbilt on COVID-19 projections

“We’re going to get through this crisis but we will only do so because of Tennesseans taking personal individual responsibility for taking care of not only themselves but their neighbors,” he said.

“This is something that Tennesseans can do but we’re going to have to do it together and we’re going to have to be serious about what is means to socially distance,” Lee said. “And what it means to use good hygiene and stay away from crowds and groups and stay away from church gatherings that are too close or work gatherings that put us in proximity with one another.”

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March


coronavirus Bill Lee Tennessee National Guard Jeff H. Holmes

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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