NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force said Tennessee is at a critical time in the COVID-19 pandemic and that a statewide mask mandate would help curb the spread.
Dr. Deborah Birx met with Gov. Bill Lee on Monday morning and participated in a round table with community and state health officials.
She advised that the spread has now reached more rural areas, and it was particularly important for people in those areas to wear masks and practice social distancing.
If the state would not mandate it, she called on local county mayors to issue a mandate.
Those local county mayors don't plan to change their minds.
Nearly every county in East Tennessee has issued a statement saying they will not enact a mask mandate. The exceptions are Knox and Sevier counties, which are both requiring masks, and Union County, which still hasn't made an official decision.
"Many Tennesseans suffer from issues that make the disease harder on them, like being overweight, heart and lung issues, diabetes," Birx said.
She said she hoped everyone heard President Trump's message about the importance of wearing a mask.
Gov. Lee said he was grateful to Dr. Birx and her team and that the state would do more to increase buy-in on the importance of masks, but he does not plan to issue a statewide mandate.
"Beyond the regions that currently have restrictions, we won’t be closing the economy back down," Gov. Lee said.
Birx also said that people should limit in-person dining and advocated for the temporary closure of bars. She said that had made a difference in Nashville and other states, like Arizona.
She added young people who are asymptomatic are spreading the virus to their parents and grandparents.
On Tuesday, Lee is expected to outline what teachers, parents, and students can expect for the upcoming school year.
Lee said his staff is communicating routinely with superintendents as they prepare to go back to school.
The governor is advocating for parents to have the choice to either send their children to school or learn from home.
"I think that what Dr. Birx and I agree on is no one knows what the best strategy is but the best outcome is every Tennessean to wear a mask. To be able to go to a football game, for kids to go to school, mask use will make that happen," Gov. Lee said.