On Saturday, Tennessee first lady Maria Lee tested positive for the coronavirus, and the state notched a record-setting 30 percent positivity rate. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Infection ranked the state No. 1 in the U.S. for COVID infections for the past seven days, and it was widely expected that Gov. Bill Lee would finally institute a mask mandate. Instead, he opted for a restriction on public gatherings to 10 people; notably, churches and at-home events were not included in the restrictions. Despite calls from doctors and even the White House, Lee has chosen to let local communities choose whether to require masks for their residents. “We are in a cold, cruel phase of this pandemic,” he said in a livestreamed speech Sunday announcing the new gathering restrictions. “It will get worse before it gets better. I know you are tired. But we have got to double down.”
Grappling with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation, Gov. Bill Lee will mandate social gathering restrictions but refuses to require mask-wearing in Tennessee as the deadly illness rampages the state, stretching hospitals to their limits and claiming more than 6,000 lives.
Lee announced a new 10-person public gathering restriction in a live video address Sunday night. He also urged Tennesseans to gather with people only within their household for Christmas and asked employers to allow employees to work from home for the next 30 days. The gathering restrictions, enacted by an executive order expiring Jan. 19, will not apply to at-home events or churches.
"We tried to be as targeted and specific to what we think the actual problem is and not go beyond that," Lee said on a call with Republican members of the General Assembly ahead of the speech.