Tennessee resists White House COVID-19 recommendations

By , Special to the Daily Memphian Updated: August 26, 2020 10:12 AM CT | Published: July 27, 2020 4:59 PM CT

Tennessee stands at the cusp of being able to decrease new cases of the coronavirus significantly and must take stronger steps to prevent its spread, warned White House COVID-19 task force leader Deborah Birx after she met with state and local health leaders Monday, July 27, in Nashville.

Birx recently identified Nashville as one of 11 cities with a surge in coronavirus cases that need aggressive action while noting that many of the state’s rural areas have seen a worrisome outbreak.

“We’ve done a lot of modeling and we have found that if you all wear a mask – all Tennesseans – in every public area and you stop going to bars, and in fact close the bars, and limit your indoor dining, that we can have as big of an impact on decreasing new cases as we had with sheltering in place,” Birx told reporters.

“Tennessee is at that inflection point,” she said.

However, her remarks fell flat with Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has vowed he won’t shut down the state’s economy again and has resisted repeated calls to issue a statewide mask mandate.

“I’ve been to counties that have a mandate where people are not wearing masks as well,” Lee said shortly after Birx’s remarks. “People wear masks because they believe there is a reason to do so and I believe that they will increasingly understand that as their local officials advocate for that.”

“I appreciate their recommendations and we take them seriously,” Lee added, yet acknowledged that he had no plans to institute any further business restrictions as urged by Birx – who stopped by Tennessee after recently visiting Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to meet with local leaders about COVID-19.

Health officials estimate that up to 70% of Tennessee’s 95 counties have implemented some sort of mask mandate.

Restaurants are barred from staying open past 10 p.m. in Nashville. In Shelby County, bars that don’t serve food are closed and restaurants have to close at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile Monday, a group of Tennessee doctors that has been pushing for stricter virus prevention measures continued their own call for a statewide mask mandate.

In a news conference, the doctors expressed hope that pressure from the White House would cause Lee to change his mind about masks.

“We need a mask mandate immediately and we need to delay the start of in-person classes to allow the mandate to work,” pulmonary and critical care physician Dr. Aaron Milstone said, citing the uncontrolled spread of the virus in Tennessee.

Otherwise, he said, the state must shut down again or just accept the fact that many more people are going to die.

Tennessee reported more than 2,500 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the state Monday, for a total of nearly 96,500.

Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz contributed from Memphis and Travis Loller from Nashville.

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COVID-19 Gov. Bill Lee


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