Betsy Morley, Mary Kline-Barnes,MD Katrina Green,MD and Amy Gordon Bono< MD, MPH, hold signs during a legislative committee hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Parents, doctors and pastors asked Gov. Bill Lee to reinstate a state of emergency to deal with the ongoing COVID surge that’s forced dozens of schools to close in the past few weeks.
In a press conference organized by the Protect My Care, speakers described how Lee and “radical” politicians have left Tennesseans to deal with the pandemic on their own, having stripped local boards of the authority to enact safety measures.
“And now we are dealing with a disinformation campaign which is leading many people to reject proven science-driven information on which to base their decisions about COVID safety,” said Dr. Katrina Green, an emergency physician.
Between Jan, 9 and Jan. 15, there were 16,226 positive COVID cases and 86 deaths per day, making Tennessee one of the leading states for COVID-related deaths.
Lee signed a series of bills passed by the state legislature to prevent local governments and school districts from having authority over safety protocols.Dozens of schools across the state have recently closed due to the amount of infected or exposed students and school faculty.
Schools may request permission to move classrooms to remote learning, and State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has granted more than 100 requests across 34 districts since last year, with 70 requests just in January.
This is clearly not a plateau, this is a vertical incline. COVID-19 cases in children have risen to a record high surpassing the surge of the delta wave.
– Dr. Mary Kline Barnes
As of Monday, schools in Kingsport City, Wilson County, Knox County, Hamilton County and Shelby County have all closed.
“Those numbers don’t just affect staff, that’s hundreds of families affected–siblings who can’t attend school and parents who can’t go to work. When we refuse to follow common sense mitigation efforts , recommended by healthcare professionals, we all suffer,” said the Rev. Laura Becker, pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. Becker has school-aged children.
Speakers also criticized Lee and the Tennessee Department of Health for their lack of action to address the ongoing crisis.
State health officials are no longer providing daily COVID-19 updates, opting instead for weekly reports, and last week, TDH Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the omicron variant had started to plateau.
“This is clearly not a plateau, this is a vertical incline. COVID-19 cases in children have risen to a record high surpassing the surge of the delta wave,” said Dr. Mary Kline Barnes, a pediatrician
While Lee said he was hopeful the surge would end soon, he has yet to introduce a plan or strategy to combat shortages across schools and hospitals.
“Gov. Lee, you can hope the pandemic ends soon, but hopes without actions are just wishes. So we must ask again, what is your plan?” said Green.
Lee will deliver his state of the state address to the General Assembly on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m.. Members of the group speaking Wednesday plan to ask that he reinstate a state of emergency and allow local leaders to implement safety measures.
“The result, disruption in our communities, schools struggling to stay open, parents who can’t work causing employers to deal with staff shortages and hospitals stretched to the limit yet again,” said Green.
“Visit any emergency department in Tennessee, talk with a frontline healthcare worker and you will see that your ‘fend for yourself’ strategy is not working,” she added.
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