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Gov. Lee to let COVID-19 state of emergency expire in Tennessee Friday night

The move comes as new and active COVID-19 cases have begun to rise again in Tennessee.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Governor Bill Lee announced he would not renew Tennessee's COVID-19 state of emergency, which expires Friday night.

The order, which was signed originally on March 12, 2020 and last extended on November 5, relaxed some rules make medical staffing more flexible to respond to a larger number of hospitalizations, gave discretion to allow the National Guard and State Guard to assist hospitals, expanded testing sites and suspended some inspections.

The governor has extended and revised the order several times over the past 20 months. It expires at 11:59 p.m. Central Standard Time on November 19.

The news comes as Tennessee is beginning to see a renewed upward trend in cases for the first time in several weeks. The Tennessee Department of Health  on Thursday reported active cases had risen to 13,225 on November 17, up from 11,240 on November 9.

Public health experts said an expected winter surge in COVID-19 cases has begun in several states, but are remaining hopeful that the combination of higher vaccination rates and natural immunity across most age groups will keep COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths from spiking to the same record levels seen over the summer.  

“We do expect to see a surge in new cases over the holidays as people get together more and travel more,” Dr. Gypsyamber D'Souza, professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News. “The good news is more than two-thirds of Americans have been vaccinated and that means any increase in new cases will lead to less burden of hospitalization and deaths than it did last year.”

Governor Lee said should the state see future surges, he would consider reinstating the emergency order. In the meantime, he said the state is evaluating options for "permanent deregulation."