While making a stop in Decatur to tour the historical Meigs theater last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee discussed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and some of the issues surrounding it.
During his comments, he cited a recent increase in the rate of vaccinations across the state.
“As the Delta variant moves through the state, it in itself is encouraging Tennesseans to get vaccinated,” Lee said. “We are saying it at every turn (to get vaccinated). We had about 150,000 who chose to get vaccinated in the previous week — that’s a 200% increase over some seven weeks ago.”
Lee stressed the importance of getting as many people vaccinated as possible.
“Meigs County is the highest vaccinated county in the state,” he pointed out. “This is our best tool for combatting the coronavirus pandemic and we are working really hard to make sure people understand that this is our best way out.”
Lee was also asked about the executive order he signed on Aug. 16 that allowed parents to opt out of any mask mandates imposed by school systems in the state.
“The law is designed to give parents an option to have their children go to school with masks or have the option to have their children attend school without,” he said. “We think parents are the best advocates for their children. They are best suited to make medical and health decisions for their children. We’re very hopeful we can move forward through this pandemic in a way that protects lives and gives folks their choice of how to walk through it.”
Noting that the question of mandating masks in school is “a really hard issue,” Lee said there are circumstances where parents could have concerns about their child being required to wear a mask.
“We have parents of disabled children who believe that their children do best without a mask – for example, parents with children with hearing disabilities or some children with severe autism that have difficulties with masks,” he said. “We respect and understand that parents want to make the best decision for their children. We encourage parents to send their children to school with masks to protect them, we also want to give parents who don’t think that’s the best choice for their child the option. I think it’s the best way forward.”
Even with the opt-out in place, Lee said systems that have mask mandates are seeing a high rate of cooperation, citing a study in Williamson County where 70% of children are wearing masks.
“I think it’s a great compromise that allows us to protect our kids and gives parents freedom at the same time,” he said.
Lee also addressed the situation hospitals find themselves in as COVID-19 cases remain high in the state.
He noted that the biggest problem facing hospitals currently is not as much a lack of beds, but the need for more people.
“It isn’t the beds, it’s the staff for those beds,” he said. “I recently signed an executive order increasing flexibility for our health care providers. It allows for more widespread use of our medical facilities, allows for the National Guard to work on site on the premises in hospitals, it requested additional National Guardsmen to be placed in hospitals and it increased funding for staffing in hospitals.”