Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has turned down White House adviser Deborah Birx’s recommendation that the state should close down its bars and limit indoor seating. Lee, a Republican, gave his response shortly after Birx held a press conference on the matter on Monday, despite his state’s recent spike in coronavirus cases.
“It is at this very moment where we could change the trajectory of the epidemic before it goes into full of what we call logarithmic spread, as we’ve seen across the South,” Birx said.
Birx serves as Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Trump White House and was appointed as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator by Barack Obama. She reportedly made the same recommendations to Lee and other state officials behind closed doors.
In response, Lee flatly refused to close down or limit capacity for any establishments currently open in the state and did not give local governments the ability to do it themselves. This leaves only a few parts of the state to close anything without Lee’s approval.
“Beyond the regions that currently have restrictions, that’s not a plan for us now. I’ve said from the very beginning of this pandemic that there’s nothing off the table,” Lee said. “I’ve also said that we are not going to close the economy back down, and we are not going to. But I appreciate their recommendations, and we take them seriously.”
Birx has made the same recommendations in states like Texas, Florida, and Arizona, which have seen the worst of the recent surges in COVID-19. Kentucky, led by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, was also given the same recommendations and has implemented them.
While Tennessee has no statewide mask mandate, Lee has allowed local governments to make their own mandates. Birx has said that she supports this decision.
Johns Hopkins University reports that Tennessee has seen over 96,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and nearly 1,000 deaths.
Lee’s decisions on public health measures has drawn outcry from constituents and calls for action. On Monday, a group of Tennessee doctors issued a joint statement urging Lee to put out a statewide mask mandate and implement other measures.
“We need a mask mandate immediately and we need to delay the start of in-person classes to allow the mandate to work,” critical care physician Dr. Aaron Milstone said in a statement.
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