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Gov. Lee signs order limiting some social gatherings, does not issue mask mandate

He asked Tennesseans not to meet with people outside their immediate family for the holidays.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee delivered a statewide address to Tennesseans on Sunday about the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths across the state.

"Now Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness," Lee said.

He said Tennessee is in a war against the virus and the next few weeks would be critical.

He asked Tennesseans not to meet with people outside their immediate family for the holidays, and on a call shortly before his address, Lee told lawmakers he was signing an order to limit public social gatherings to 10 people or less and to limit attendance at indoor sporting events.

"We know that it is gatherings that have caused this surge. That is why we are making these decisions around gatherings that will help us blunt the rise in cases," Lee said.

The Executive Order is meant to last 30 days, and Lee said the tangible metrics they are looking at over the next month are limiting hospitalizations and blunting the surge in cases.

He said the state is most worried about people breaking gathering rules on New Year's Eve during a press briefing on Monday, Dec. 21.

RELATED: TN Health Commissioner: Post-Christmas surge could 'completely break' Tennessee hospitals

This order also encouraged businesses to let employees work from home for the next 30 days and to wear masks when working from home wasn't an option.

He also told lawmakers he would not institute a mask mandate but still encouraged Tennesseans to wear them, urging them not to fall into the politicization surrounding the issue.

"I believe in the courage of Tennesseans to face this darkest hour. I believe that victory will be ours and we have the power to determine how long this extends. If we each do our part, we will win and move to a new season of health and prosperity for our state," Lee said.

During the briefing on Monday, he encouraged mayors to implement mandates in their own counties.

He said his statewide address Sunday night was meant to appeal to those who don't wear masks.

Lee went on to say the state has authorized National Guard medics to work in hospitals and has established COVID-specific nursing homes to "protect the most vulnerable and help hospitals free up critical bed space."

Weekly White House reports to Governor Lee's office described a worsening pandemic in Tennesse and across the U.S., and included recommendations for how leaders should respond. Those recommendations including mask mandates increased testing at universities, and urgent messaging to alert people across the state about the severity of the surge.

Spanish Version: Gobernador Lee firma orden limitando reuniones sociales pero no emite uso obligatorio de mascarillas

In his address, Lee said roughly 10,000 Tennesseans are getting sick every day with more than 100 dying each day.

As of Dec. 13, the report added an entirely new tier of severity to its scale — "darkest red." Officials said that COVID-19 cases, test positivity rates, and deaths in Tennessee began to eclipse the previous scale. All of the state's counties were reported "red" for new cases per 100,000 and many were in "dark red."

Sevier, Rutledge, and Grainger county were in the worst tier of "darkest red," with 750 or more reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the last 14 days.

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