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Lee: Everyone needs to wear a mask in public

Posted on Thursday, May 14, 2020 at 1:50 pm

By David Knox

Gov. Bill Lee doesn’t want to mandate anything, but he has issued strong guidelines as the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the state.

“The state has purchased 5 million masks … free of cost to Tennesseans,” the governor said Wednesday in a teleconference. “We want people to remember everyone needs to wear a mask when they go out in public.”

The masks are available at every county’s public health department. “We will be finalizing further distribution plans, but the first wave of distribution is to public health departments in every county.”

Moore County still has just three confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The state has 15,544 cases and 251 deaths as of Monday afternoon.

Lee believes the signs are encouraging but it’s no time to let up on safety measures – hand-washing, maintaining social distancing, staying home when sick and the wearing of masks when in public.

There are two schools of thought, it seems. One, that the wearing of masks is unnecessary and that even Lee’s request to do so means a loss of freedom; and two, that the wearing of masks should be required and enforced.

Lee was asked why he hasn’t made his guidelines a mandate.

“I really don’t want to start off with the premise that Tennesseans are not going to follow guidance. I don’t want to assume that people will not do what they are asked to do. In part, because I think Tennesseans have been incredibly responsive … it’s the reason that we’re one of the first states in the country that are really able to start to crack open our businesses because we have the numbers to substantiate it, the data, because people have been very diligent to socially distance.

“So we’re not mandating mask-wearing, we just know that it is really important, and we want people to know that. I think if people recognize that their own physical safety and the safety of others can be impacted by wearing the mask during this period of time of uncertainty when we don’t know exactly what is going to happen from a health standpoint going forward … we do know that wearing a mask protects people’s health.

“We will not mandate that, but we certainly are going to suggest it. … it is a guideline but not a mandate.”

Lee was asked whether high school graduation ceremonies should be held.

“I think what we need to do is treat them as really important events and is really important to do them safely. We have given guidance through the department of education very specifically about how to do graduations. My belief is as we go forward in this new COVID world we’re going to have to figure out ways to move forward with the things that are a part of our lives but do so in a safe way. Whether that’s a graduation, whether that’s a place of worship, whether that is a business, we just have to learn how to do this and be very vigilant and diligent and do it in a new way.”

Moore County’s high school graduation is tentatively set for June 19 at the school.