By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Lee held a rare Sunday night press conference to discuss the increasingly grave COVID-19 situation in the state and the new Executive Order 70 that focuses on social distancing, social gatherings, work from home and spectator sports.
Lee emphasized that over 10,000 Tennesseans are getting sick daily with COVID-19, three times the number getting sick around Halloween. The state is also seeing over 100 deaths daily from the virus.
The governor encouraged citizens to gather socially for the upcoming holidays only with members of their immediate household.
Executive Order 70 limits social gatherings to groups of less than 10 people and encourages groups to be socially distanced at least six feet from other groups or persons in indoor public places. It does not limit the number of people in a venue to 10, just individual group size is limited.
Worship services, weddings and funerals are excluded from the under 10-person restriction but are encouraged to hold virtual services and strongly encouraged to follow “Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship” that was issued by the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives earlier this year.
Attendance at sporting events was addressed with limitations being controlled by the sport’s governing body. The Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) will limit attendance at any sporting events or practices to immediate household members of participants, media, school officials, scouts and first responders, as detailed in the order.
Attendance at collegiate and professional sporting events will continue to be governed by the rules of their school, conference or governing bodies.
Lee also asked business owners to let employees work from home for the next 30 days. If work from home is not feasible, Lee encouraged employees to wear masks while at work.
“We are in a cold, cruel phase of this pandemic,” said Lee. “It will get worse before it gets better. I know you are tired, but we have to double down.”
In recent days, Tennessee has ranked No. 1 in the country for COVID-19 infection rates according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adjusted for population.
The rate of infectivity continues to rise. On Saturday, Tennessee recorded a record setting 30% positivity rate on COVID tests processed.
Although Lee stressed “Tennesseans have two weapons that they must use in the next 30 days: only gather with your household and wear a mask,” he refuses to issue a statewide mask mandate, preferring to pass that responsibility down to county mayors.
Of 95 counties, only 29 have mask mandates with the majority being the urban and suburban counties.
The governor also acknowledged that First Lady Maria Lee had tested positive for COVID-19 and is now quarantining at their home in Franklin, while he is quarantining at the Governor’s mansion.