Gov. Lee calls for public gathering restrictions — Democrats, health officials say not enough

Gov. Bill Lee giving his statewide address by video from the Governor’s Residence.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has delivered a rare statewide address to Tennesseans regarding the COVID-19 surge. Lee addressed the state while quarantining at the Governor’s Residence due to a positive test for COVID-19 by his wife, First Lady Maria Lee. Lee himself had so far tested negative.

“It’s Christmas week, ordinarily a time when families across the state are gathering to celebrate. Unfortunately, these are not ordinary times,” he said. “We are in a global pandemic that’s been crippling our country for months and now Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness. I am speaking with you tonight because I want to be clear with where we are and what we need to do together to get through this.

“We now have around 10,000 Tennesseans getting sick every day. To put that in perspective, that’s three times where we were around Halloween. It is the next few weeks that is going to be the most critical for our state.

“We have seen firsthand that Thanksgiving gatherings and extended time indoors have been the principal driver in spreading COVID-19 like wildfire. It only took a matter of days to see gatherings around Thanksgiving translate into a record level of sickness. Tennessee cannot sustain a similar surge after Christmas or New Year’s. Tonight, I am asking you to make some hard decisions.

“I am asking you to not engage in indoor gatherings for the holidays that include anyone outside your household. Family time and celebrations are important. I understand deeply how much Tennessee families need each other. But we must do all that we can to blunt this surge and keep more Tennesseans from getting sick.”

The governor signed an order that limits indoor public gatherings to 10 people and is asking business owners to let employees work from home for the next 30 days.

However, many statewide leaders and health authorities are disappointed with Lee for not issuing a statewide mask mandate.

“The public gathering restrictions announced by Gov. Bill Lee fail to meet the gravity of the pandemic health crisis in Tennessee, which the governor described as “ground zero” in a rare Sunday night address,” said Senate Democrats in a release. “Tennessee just concluded its worst week of the pandemic for deaths and new cases. Health officials say hospitals and medical workers are on the edge of collapsing if cases surge higher.

“Doctors, nurses and these lawmakers were expecting urgency and evidence-based solutions to fight the virus from Gov. Lee on Sunday. Instead, Lee issued another directive with more suggestion than strategy.”

State Sen. Brenda Gilmore compared Tennessee’s COVID situation to a house being on fire and still lighting matches.

“If you don’t take immediate action the whole house is going to burn down,” she said.  “I’m begging you. Our healthcare workers are tired and overwhelmed. You must take immediate action and get tough against this virus. If you don’t, hundreds more will die.”

According to officials, Tennessee has the highest COVID-19 rate in the entire country.

According to Sen. Raumesh Akbari: “We needed real and decisive action and we got the exact opposite. Such a simple thing—mandating a mask! Listen to doctors who are begging for help.”

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