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Gov. Lee announces new 'unified command,' says he'll evaluate school closure order this week

Bill Lee also said one of his staff members tested positive for the virus. But Lee said he feels fine and his exposure to that staffer was limited.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Lee said Monday he'll evaluate this week whether a statewide directive to keep public schools closed should be extended.

He also touted a new "unified command" he's created to help state officials be more nimble in responding to the crisis, and he said that while one of his staff members has tested positive for COVID-19, he himself feels fine and believes he is not at risk.

Lee also said he'd signed a new executive order aimed at hospitals and surgery centers, limiting elective procedures. He's also seeking personal protection equipment that can be used to help cope with the crisis.

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"This is not going to go away in 15 days. We know that. This is going to be quite an effort for quite some time. But if we do this right we can do it in a way that minimizes the damage," he said.

Lee spoke for about 40 minutes from Nashville on Monday with reporters listening from remote locations. His briefings are now a daily occurrence.

He also offered a stern reminder to everyone.

"Every single Tennessean should wake up and take personal responsibility for saving the lives of the people around them and saving the livelihoods of their neighbors," Lee said.

The crisis is both health-oriented and economic, Lee said.

There are now 615 positive cases of coronavirus in the state, he said.

While he has declined so far to declare a stronger order limiting the population's movements as some doctors have requested, Lee said he will respond as needed.

He said not every state and every county and every city is the same.

"Nothing is off the table. Decisions change every day,” he said.

Credit: State of Tennessee
Virus case update for March 23, 2020.

Lee announced the creation of a "unified command" composed of health department, military and emergency response leaders. Their job will be to find innovative ways to address problems as they come up such as equipment shortages, he said.

He also said he'd signed another executive order -- No. 18 -- that prohibits hospitals and surgery centers from performing elective surgeries. Also, dental clinics are to stand down from doing anything but emergency procedures. 

Practitioners are being asked to donate personal protective equipment. Lee said the order also will allow authorities access to clinic ventilators when needed to help with a possible surge in critical patients sickened by the virus.

The order remains in effect until April 13, he said.

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