A day after making a rare address to the state and signing a new executive order, Gov. Bill Lee told reporters he really wants people to listen to his message: social distancing and masks work.
But his latest order, signed Sunday, lacks enforcement. It essentially serves as an additional plea to those who have ignored his previous appeals.
For the last few months, Lee has asked people wear their masks but has refused to implement a mask mandate. That approach has proven largely unsuccessful, especially among members of his own party — one in five Republicans say they don’t wear a mask in public in the latest Vanderbilt Poll, compared to no Democrats surveyed. And the COVID deaths and case count have skyrocketed in the last few months.
“I spoke last night about the politicized issue that masks have become and really tried to cut through all of that,” Lee said Monday. “I tried to appeal to those who don’t wear masks that this is important. You can do this. Wear a mask. Masks work.”
Beyond the additional appeal to wear masks, Lee’s also issued an executive order to limit public gatherings to 10 people. But it doesn’t apply to weddings, funerals, or worship services, nor does it apply to private gatherings.
When asked what scenario this new restriction would apply to, the governor mentioned New Year’s Eve parties.
“The thought is that this holiday season will be the challenge, and where we had the greatest spread is when you have large groups of people together — that would create a greater amount of spread,” Lee said.,
But he clarified the state won’t be enforcing the restriction.
Lee said if people social-distance and wear masks for the next 30 days, this will reduce the COVID-19 case count. He also hopes for hospitalizations to stabilize by then.
Democrats ask for statewide mask mandate
Earlier on Monday, Tennessee Democrats slammed Lee for not implementing stricter guidelines to combat COVID-19.
Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, criticized the governor on a call with reporters.
“Oftentimes, Tennessee likes to brag about being the first and being the number one in setting an example,” Lamar said. “But we are setting a world example of how to kill people during a pandemic by not implementing common sense tactics such a mask mandate.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise at a rapid rate. Nearly 3,000 people are currently hospitalized. Health officials said that another surge in cases after Christmas will break the hospitals’ ability to care for patients.