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Gov. Lee doubles down against a state-wide mask mandate

Governor Bill Lee doubled down on his position against a state-wide mask mandate Tuesday, less than a week after the White House reportedly recommended one for Tennessee.
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:49 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 11:06 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Governor Bill Lee doubled down on his position against a state-wide mask mandate Tuesday, less than a week after the White House reportedly recommended one for Tennessee.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office, Gillum Ferguson, said: “The governor has strongly encouraged Tennesseans to make responsible decisions to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, including wearing masks in public, avoiding large gatherings, and staying home when sick.”

Lee announced Tuesday, too, that he intended to extend an order allowing mayors in the state to issue their own mandates as they saw fit.

Ferguson continued, “He has also been clear that he believes that statewide, one-size-fits-all government mandates are not the best way to achieve sustainable compliance from individuals, as they are more likely to trust local leaders and that local leaders know the needs of their communities best.”

The advice from the White House has not prompted the governor to change course, he added. “Previous White House reports dating back to the summer have included similar recommendations, so the inclusion here is not novel.”

Over the summer, White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx visited Tennessee and encouraged the use of masks and pointed to bar closures as a way to mitigate the virus. During the visit, which occurred late July, Birx said of Lee, “I think he has a sound strategy that he’s working through the state."

As of Oct 20, cases in Tennessee had surpassed 233,000 with hospitalizations surging. A Tennessee health official called the rise of hospitalizations “dramatic” and said they were up by 50 percent since Oct 1.

The governor has stressed the importance of wearing masks each day and called it a personal responsibility in the fight against COVID-19. The governor’s office did not provide any evidence that the strategy was having an impact on Tennesseans' response to the pandemic when asked.

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