By Peter White
Governor Bill Lee delivered a statewide address Sunday night, Dec 20, to talk about the “COVID-19 Surge”. As we have reported, the coronavirus has been surging in Tennessee since October. That’s nothing new.
Tennessee led the country in new infections for most of December. It has the highest per capita positivity rate in the country, 8,043 cases per 100,000. But last week, California reported 100.4 cases per 100,000 while Tennessee reported a lower rate of 90.8 per 100,000. So for the week of Dec. 20-26, Tennessee’s 7-day daily average was below California’s. It is still a grim situation.
“Now Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Lee said.
At least 65 new coronavirus deaths and 9,265 new cases were reported in Tennessee on Dec. 21. During the previous week, there was an average of 8,953 cases per day, an increase of 90 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times.
“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,” Lee said.
Lee said that thousands of Tennesseans are in the hospital and more than 100 people are dying each day.
“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,” Lee said.
The Governor pleaded for everyone to stay at home over the holidays and issued an order to limit indoor public gatherings to 10 people. High school sports will continue but attendance will be limited. Lee asked employers to let employees work from home for the next month and if that’s not possible, people should wear masks at work.
“Tennesseans have two weapons that they must use in the next 30 days: only gather with your household and wear a mask.” Lee said.
The Democratic opposition held a press call the next day after Lee’s address.
“Governor Lee last night did not match the moment, “ said Sen. Jeff Yarbro.
He said 1000 Tennesseans have died in the last 12 days and another 1,000 will probably die before New Year’s.
“We need the Governor to step up and lead. No more suggestions. No more urgings. No more giving in to the crazies who deny the virus and no more giving up on containing the spread of this virus that is killing this many Tennesseans,” Yarbro said.
He said that the governor must find the political courage to do the right thing and adopt the measures suggested by medical experts. Yarbro stressed that the 35 states that did so are in better shape than Tennessee.
“Time is of the essence right now and it’s incomprehensible that Gov. Lee would stick to a course of action that is irresponsible and failing to save lives in this moment,” Yarbro said.
“The house is on fire and we are still lighting matches,” said Sen. Brenda Gilmore. “If you don’t take immediate action the whole house is going to burn down.” Gilmore pleaded with Lee to issue a mask mandate.
“Yesterday in Gov. Lee’s address to the state he said ’let’s not make this mask mandate a political issue’, but, in fact, he made this a political issue when he decided once again not to implement a mask mandate…and force us to protect one another,” said Rep. London Lamar.
Lamar said Tennessee would not be in such dire straits now if Lee had implemented a mandate months ago and said the state’s economy is dying because the Lee administration has not acted with leadership, courage, and responsibility.
“We have over $1 billion in a fund that could be used to help families during this difficult time,” she said.
“It is tragic to have watched this crisis accelerate over the better part of a year with early strong and consistent guidance from some of the world’s top health care professionals….having been consistently ignored,” said Sen. Heidi Campbell.
She said that early and decisive leadership would have saved so many lives and businesses. “And it would have kept our economy moving. Instead, we now own the distinction of being the worst in the world in mitigating this pandemic. We owe the good people of Tennessee better leadership than this,” Campbell said.