Fighting a pandemic

Governor orders help for rural communities; doesn’t take state lockdown off the table

Monday afternoon Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 22, urging Tennesseans to stay at home.

“Safer at Home” is not a lockdown, is not a “shelter in place” order, but it does “urge Tennesseans who are in non-essential roles to remain at home.”

On Thursday, March 26, Lee addressed the measures being taken by the state during the COVID-19 pandemic during a teleconference with members of the Tennessee Press Association.

At the time Executive Order 22 had been put in place, but Lee had been asking citizens to adhere to “social distancing.”

He said social distancing has been proven to retard the spread of the virus.

“Testing is very, very important,” he said.

“If we could test everyone in the state then we would know, for certain, who had it (COVID-19).

“But we don’t know.”

Lee said that is why social distancing is so vital in keeping the virus from spreading.

Executive Order 22 addresses that, but Lee said last Thursday, a further step may become necessary.

He said the state may look at a lock down order as some point.

“We’re not taking it off the table,” he said.

“A decision like that is very, very difficult. We take this decision, all decisions, very seriously. The leaders in this state are working together to get through this, but we have not taken anything off the table.”

Lee, however, said he has faith in the citizens of the state. “When Tennesseans takes responsibility for their actions and … Not be afraid, but be aware of the seriousness of the situation … social distancing is very important. Information from around the globe has confirmed this. And it is not just limited to our population centers.”

He said the state will pull through the pandemic depending on “the degree to which Tennesseans heed this advice.”

“’Do your part, stay apart,’ is vital and we have to get the word out,” he said.

Lee also said that as the virus spreads — as of Tuesday morning the Center for Disease Control listed 1,834 cases, with 13 deaths, in Tennessee — the importance of getting medical needs to the rural areas of the state are a priority.

Thursday Lee said 250 National Guard personnel — 150 of which had medical training — were being dispatched to rural areas across the state. He said medical supplies were being shipped as well, and that counties should have received those by Thursday as well.

In all 81-percent of medical supplies available in the state for testing, treatment, and protection of those working those infected, were shipped to rural areas of Tennessee.

To maximize the state’s effort during the pandemic, on March 23, Lee established the COVID-19 Unified Command, a joint effort to be led by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Military. This group launched a website today which includes helpful resources, FAQs, and local and global data related to COVID-19.

That website address is

“This pulls everyone together,” Lee said. “Emergency management and military, it will maximize our health care capacity.

“This is a tremendous challenge, but we will get through this. The degree by how we rise up together will provide hope for tomorrow.”