Gov. Lee encourages Tennesseans to maintain social distancing as COVID-19 increases

Screen grab of Gov. Bill Lee at Wednesday's press briefing.
Screen grab of Gov. Bill Lee at Wednesday's press briefing.

Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday that the rise in COVID-19 cases statewide was expected as stay-at-home orders lifted and many Tennesseans returned to work.

But Lee and his top health adviser cautioned that social distancing is still vital to addressing the pandemic and hinted at plans to expand testing.

Through the end of the day on Monday, Tennessee had 27,869 cases of COVID-19 and 436 deaths. Lee loosened his stay-at-home orders for 89 Tennessee counties on May 1.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health (Photo: Tennessee Department of Health)
Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health (Photo: Tennessee Department of Health)

“The first thing I want to address is the uptick in cases in coronavirus, COVID-19 cases positive cases in our state,” Lee said to begin his press conference on Wednesday. “It’s not unexpected given that folks are out and about much more, moving around our state. It’s very important that we follow this information, this data, not only the cases that we have in our state, but the very important data point of hospital capacity and fortunately our hospital capacity is very stable in spite of this uptick of cases. But we will continue to track that and make sure we monitor that important data.”

Lee said the state was able to curb the spread of the virus because Tennesseans adhered to social distancing guidelines, which he said are still important as the economy reopens.

“I also want to encourage Tennesseans that one of the reasons we got to the place that we could open our economy in a greater way, one of the reasons is that Tennesseans did what helps to mitigate the spread of a virus like COVID-19 – washing hands, staying home when sick, getting a test, which is incredibly important for Tennesseans to remember, wearing a mask,” Lee said. All of those social distancing measures that Tennesseans have taken have allowed us to move forward. In this environment of an opened economy it’s incredibly important that Tennesseans continue to do that, continue to follow those practices so that we can mitigate the spread of this virus and manage and maintain it as we go through the summer.”

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the rise in cases was expected and that hospital capacity remains available. Piercey pointed out that in-patient and intensive care unit bed availability is at about 20 percent of state capacity. When Lee’s orders prevented elected surgeries, overall capacity was at  24 to 26 percent statewide.

Piercey said the increase was expected with elective procedures resuming, but the state remains in acceptable range in terms of overall bed capacity.

“Fortunately our hospital resources are stable and are forecasted to do so. We are in continual conversations with the Tennessee Hospital Association and many of our providers statewide just to make sure we have good eyes on what those resources are.”

Lee also announced that he signed an executive order Wednesday to allow visitation at nursing home and long-term-care facilities. Lee ordered all of those Tennessee facilities to undergo full COVID-19 testing, which is expected to be completed in the coming days.

There will also be weekly re-testing in nursing homes going forward Piercey said.

The visits will be allowed in counties where spread of the virus is under control and with strict social distancing restrictions, Piercey said.