A handful of Tennessee Democratic lawmakers held a press conference via Zoom Monday afternoon following Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s prime time address to Tennesseans on the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers.
Although Lee has emphasized the necessity of mask wearing to mitigate the spread of the deadly coronavirus, he has resisted continued calls to issue a statewide mandate and continued to do so during his address Sunday night.
“It is my belief that other leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, would follow if indeed Gov. Lee put forth a mask mandate,”
state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem of District 28 said.
“When you talk about Tennessee being the worst Covid-19 hotspot in the world, that means to me that you have to take exceptional actions to mitigate such circumstances.”
Tennessee leads the nation in COVID-19 infection rates and has become an epicenter for the virus in the United States, doctors say.
Gov. Lee signed Executive Order 70, which lasts until Jan. 20, 2021. It limits indoor public gatherings to 10 people and does not allow spectators at K-12 sporting events. Collegiate and professional sports are “subject to the rules, protocols, or guidelines of their respective institutions and governing bodies.”
The order does not include weddings, funerals or churches. However, it states that places of worship are “strongly encouraged” to continue using virtual or online services and gatherings and postpone weddings or funerals.
It also does not place any restrictions on restaurant or bar capacity.
“We need the governor to step up and lead,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said. “No more suggestions, no more urging or giving into the crazies who deny the virus and no more giving up on containing the spread of this virus that’s killing this many Tennesseans.”
The Democratic lawmakers said that “doctors, nurses and these lawmakers were expecting urgency and evidence-based solutions to fight the virus from Gov. Lee on Sunday,” but instead he “issued another directive with more suggestion than strategy.”
“Oftentimes, Tennessee likes to brag about being the first, and about being the number one in setting an example,” said Rep. London Lamar of Memphis. “But we are setting a world example of how to kill people during a pandemic, by not implementing commonsense tactics such as a mask mandate.”
Rep. Vincent Dixie, Democratic Caucus chair
of Nashville, added, “I think that the approach that Gov. Lee seems to be taking is the survival of the fittest. And I think we’re way past that, with the technology and medicine that we now have.” Noting that Tennessee hospitals are facing potential collapse under surging COVID-19 cases, Sen. Yarbro said, “Time is of the essence right now. And it’s incomprehensible that Gov. Lee would stick to a course of action that’s irresponsible and failing to save lives in this moment. We need much bolder action, much clearer communication. And we need policies that actually match the crisis that we’re in.”