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August 13, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you for joining us for our briefing today. We will talk about our ongoing efforts to attack COVID-19 and a number of other issues that we'll be talking about today. Our focus initially is going to be on higher education, and our efforts to get our colleges and universities in a place where the students can get back on campus and do so safely. I have Tennessee Higher Education Commission Director Mike Krause with us today. Also have Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham.

Governor Bill Lee:

Director Krause will talk about what colleges and universities across the state are doing. President Oldham will talk about what's actually happening on the ground at Tennessee Tech to give us a flavor. And speaking of higher institutions, coming back to campus for a lot of folks means the return of college football. I had an encouraging conversation yesterday with the University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman about the steps the university's taken to get student athletes safely back on the field so that we can have a 2020 season. I think athletes who want to play should be able to play. And the commissioner of Sankey is showing thoughtful leadership in this area. I'm hopeful for the future of college football in Tennessee.

Governor Bill Lee:

Before we get into the details, there are a lot of items that we are going to be covering today. Economic development, small business relief, the special session, and an executive order that I signed regarding the national guard. We had some very good news on the economic development front this week, as Facebook announced that they would be investing $800 million in a capital investment in Gallatin, Tennessee, the opening of a new facility. I want to congratulate Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown and a number of other local officials who worked hard to make this happen, a significant investment of capital in our state and jobs to Tennessee. Our state continues to have an enviable climate for business and companies from across the country continue to our state as a place where they can put operations. And this is great news. This Facebook announcement's great news about a big company coming here. But I also remain committed to our small businesses that have faced significant economic challenges through COVID-19.

Governor Bill Lee:

Small business is the backbone of our economy. They are the backbone of our communities and a number of small mom-and-pop businesses are closing their doors across the country. And we need to make sure that we can do everything we can to keep that from happening here in our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

So we launched as you know, our small business relief program. Since we launched it, we've served over 14,000 small businesses in Tennessee with over $110 million in relief. But we can do more. And so tomorrow we'll be announcing the expansion of this program to include other businesses beyond those that were included in the first relief program.

Governor Bill Lee:

The financial stimulus accountability group, I want to thank them. They've served as a tremendous reliable partner in helping us to craft our stewardship of the federal money that has come through the CARES Act. This bipartisan committee has worked together to make sure that we get money to the Tennesseans that need it in a time when they need it most. So I'm grateful for their help and we continue to work together with that committee to take the next steps.

Governor Bill Lee:

While I'm pleased with the progress of economic support that we've been given, we also last night with the close of special session passed an important piece of legislation with regard to businesses. And that was the COVID-19 liability protection legislation that protects businesses and organizations and churches and schools from frivolous lawsuits that are harmful to the economy and to those organizations, and then also create inefficiencies in our court system. So I'll be signing that bill. It's an important protection for businesses and protects individuals at the same time.

Governor Bill Lee:

The special session did come to a close. I want to thank and commend Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and Speaker Cameron Sexton and their leadership, not only with regard to liability protection but also the expansion, or the provisions of a bill around telehealth. Our health care system needs modernization and telehealth is one piece of that, an important piece of that modernization. This will allow for more Tennesseans to have access to the health services that they need, particularly in a time of pandemic but far into the future as our health care system is transformed. And I'll be signing that piece of legislation as well.

Governor Bill Lee:

A third piece of business that passed legislature, addressed policies regarding state property, and particularly as it relates to vandalism to destruction of property to trespassing. We can't tolerate lawlessness and destruction of property in this state. And I think the intent of the law around the use of state property is to make that evident. And to also be certain that we protect first amendment rights in the process. There are aspects of the law that I might have done differently that were different from my initial proposal. But on balance, the law accomplishes what we needed to do. And that primarily is to provide clarity around the law. So I'll be signing that piece of legislation as well.

Governor Bill Lee:

Today I signed an executive order that provides for state employees who are national guard members and called to active military duty. Under that order, they're entitled to special leave from state employment to make certain that their pay and the difference in pay between their active duty pay and their regular pay through state work, through those differences are made up. And those families in active duty do not face financial hardship. So I'm proud to sign that bill and General Holmes is here to make comments about that among other things.

Governor Bill Lee:

We'll go to our reports before we get to questions. The first being Mike Krause, director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. If you would please come up and share your report.

Mike Krause:

Well, thank you, governor. And what I want to start off by saying is probably the most important message to deliver right now about higher education in Tennessee as we get ready to welcome back 240,000 students, is that it's going to look different. It's going to look different possibly than any semester we've seen before. I think we understand that in order to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 on our campuses, we've got to do things differently. That's going to look like a couple of different things.

Mike Krause:

First, online education is going to be a central strategy. We've asked many of our students to take at least part of their courses online, which allows us to de-densify the campus and then be able to focus on delivering face-to-face instruction safely. When we are delivering face-to-face instruction, we'll be doing that with strict protocols in place, ensuring that faculty and staff and students are able to be appropriately socially distanced.

Mike Krause:

Obviously all of this is in service of our most important goal, which is the safety of our students and our faculty. I think we also understand though that higher education in Tennessee, we have to keep moving forward. The core of our enterprise is providing opportunity for Tennesseeans, helping them to get a great degree and a great job. We can't pause that. And so making sure that we do that safely has really been the focus of the summer. We've been preparing in a variety of ways, partnering with the governor's unified command. First and foremost, I want to thank General Holmes and TEMA Director Sheehan. We put on a series of unprecedented full-scale exercises at every one of our campuses, where we were able to simulate COVID-19 contingencies that may arise in the fall and help presidents and their senior teams to learn from that and adapt their tactics accordingly.

Mike Krause:

Second, making sure that our campuses have appropriate testing resources is really important. And I want to thank Commissioner Piercey and her team because even as we speak right now, we have just over 30,000 test kits deployed at our student health centers across the state that will ensure that we're able to quickly identify any COVID outbreaks that may occur during the fall.

Mike Krause:

And then finally, we have a foundational set of operating procedures. Through the governor's Tennessee pledge for higher education, we have a baseline for what safety should look like on all of our campuses. When you take the sum of all that, I think we're able to look at our freshmen coming in, we're able to look at our returning students who went through a really disrupted spring last year. We're able to say welcome back. We're excited to have our students back. While I'm talking about students, I do want to speak directly to them, just to say that we're vesting them with some responsibility. The most important thing they can do this fall is wear a mask. It is a simple way to demonstrate care for their community, their campus, and their faculty members. And we're trusting them to do that.

Mike Krause:

This is also going to look different at every campus. We do everything from train welders to physicians in Tennessee higher education. And so I think you're going to see each campus taking a very appropriate, different approach depending on the circumstance. And for that reason, we thought it was important today to hear directly from one of the presidents who has been a leader in terms of preparing his campus but who's also a scientist. And that background informs his decisions. And so I want to ask Dr. Oldham, the president of Tennessee Tech University, to join and share some firsthand perspective.

Dr. Oldham:

Well, thank you and good afternoon and hello, wings up from Tennessee Tech. I'm certainly happy to provide a campus perspective on the impact to campuses and actions taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although my remarks today will be limited to my own campus, I would say that every campus in Tennessee would likely give a very similar action report, and I am personally proud of the efforts being made on all campuses across the state to serve the students of Tennessee. Tennessee Tech University is one of nine public universities in Tennessee. Founded in 1915, located in Cookeville, Tennessee with a focus on science and engineering. Tennessee Tech is a STEM infused comprehensive university of more than 10,000 students with a mission to serve the entire state of Tennessee known for putting students' interests first and producing career ready graduates.

Dr. Oldham:

Like other universities in Tennessee and across the country, Tennessee Tech quickly transitioned 100% of our traditionally on campus courses to finish the semester fully online last Spring during the last two weeks in March. Through that transition, the Spring semester and Summer terms, we have continued to consistently put student interests first and every decision. Students have been supported and well-served throughout. In fact, student grades during the Spring semester were a record high. A total of $7.7 million of fee refunds and Cares Act funds were efficiently transferred directly into students' accounts in April and May. Despite the successful management of the crisis last Spring, however, students almost universally told us they want to be back on campus. They strongly prefer a traditional on campus college experience.

Dr. Oldham:

So over the last four months, Tennessee Tech has put students first with our plans for a safe return to campus this Fall with our Return to Tech plans posted on our website. We intend to start and finish our semester with on ground classes that offer flexible formats that keep the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff our top priority. With that choice, we understand that we take on an added responsibility of mitigating risk. Campus faculty and student leaders have contributed to our return plans and an Implementation Committee continues to keep our plans responsive. Along with adherence to CDC and Tennessee Department of Health guidelines, we are following [T-HEC's 00:02:45] three-pronged strategy as outlined by Director Krauss, working through scenario based exercises with TEMA and THEC, making proper testing available and using foundational safety protocols.

Dr. Oldham:

Tech health services coordinates with certified contact tracers and works with our local health department. Tech will be able to test symptomatic members of our campus community or those identified through contact tracing. We also can provide surveillance testing to targeted populations on campus, such as anyone from a specific residence hall or group. Our safety protocols include distributing PPE and requiring face coverings for all students, faculty, and staff in indoor spaces and where social distancing is not possible. Our classrooms look different. Each room has an adjusted capacity to allow social distancing. Each classroom, lab, auditorium, high density spaces, and public areas such as the library will have an air purifier equipped with a HEPA filter and a UV light that will constantly disinfect the indoor air.

Dr. Oldham:

We've additionally adjusted HVAC systems on campus to double the amount of fresh air circulated in our buildings. We've studied the safest traffic patterns within buildings and created designated exits, entrances, and staircases. Hand sanitizer stations are in every building and over 70 plexiglass barriers have been installed. More than 20 no touch temperature stations have been strategically located across campus. Additionally, we're closing roads in high traffic pedestrian areas to avoid congestion between classes. Our dining areas are arranged for social distancing and our residence halls have a published plan for all its residents.

Dr. Oldham:

Additionally, we have seen the toll the pandemic has taken on the emotional health of our campus. So this Fall we will offer virtual counseling sessions, emergency crisis services, and COVID-19 support groups. Students benefit from moving forward, completing degrees, and staying on track academically, and we believe that's fully achievable by building flexibility into our course offerings that allow students to attend the class in person or online as appropriate to their specific situation. To that point, high definition conference cameras are being added to all classrooms so access to lectures and class activities are available to students who can't attend class for a period of time so they don't get behind. Faculty have been working hard all summer to create courses that meet those unique student needs.

Dr. Oldham:

We have a campus environment where we practice good habits and follow CDC guidelines. At risk employees are granted alternate work options and at risk students are assisted by our accessible Education Center. I have certainly heard passionate people disagree on a variety of issues related to returning to campus. I've also met hundreds of new and returning students and their parents in the past few weeks, and they have expressed satisfaction with our campus plans and excitement about being on campus this Fall. Tennessee Tech's return to campus is being created and managed by hundreds of faculty and staff who continue to put students first. We remain committed to our university mission, to our students, and the state of Tennessee, even in the midst of the current crisis. We choose to face those challenges head on and we'll continuously evaluate changing conditions for operating and be prepared to adjust or pivot as appropriate.

Dr. Oldham:

Finally, I want to thank Governor Lee, the General Assembly, T-HEC, and Executive Director Krauss and the Tennessee Department of Health for their continued support and leadership during this unprecedented time. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, Dr. Oldham. Thank you for your work. It's hard work. It's challenging in a time that is different from the seasons that you've had before, but we're certainly grateful for it and for your commitment to the students and T-HEC's commitment to students all across the state. General Holmes, would you come up in a moment and share your report please?

General Holmes:

Yes, sir. Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor. So the governor mentioned signing the executive order which makes up the pay differential between state employees when they're at their normal jobs and when they're serving their country or, in this case, the state. So I think, to put that in perspective, I'll tell you how impactful that is. So it's hard to realize and think back to March but we have had soldiers and airmen that have been on duty and on orders since the 1st of March. We currently have about 400 soldiers, primarily, and airman and members of the state guard, primary our medical personnel that are continuing to test and have tested all across the state, in all regions of the state. We have about 450 that are currently on duty there. So we've focused on providing free COVID testing for every segment of the population. We've been in every metropolitan area, urban housing, assisted living, worked with our state partners, Department of Corrections, Department of Children's Services, and, of course, the Department of Health, our partner.

General Holmes:

So this pay differential is very important because I feel there's four pillars that our soldiers and airmen must have in order to serve their state and their nation. And that's their family sacrifice, their community support, and then their employer support. So we recognize that as an extended period of time, those employers and those employees have been plucked away from those employers. So our employers are a tremendous partner in allowing our men and women to serve. And I think as a state, we lead by example, as the Governor talked about, the executive order. And we've had numerous support, a lot of support, from our employers in various aspects and similar to this. So I think it's representative of the state being the leader, showing that support, and I've always said we can never put our soldiers and airmen in a position where they've got to choose to serve their state and their nation or take care of their family. And this is an example of never putting them in that position. So thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, sir. Dr. Pearcy.

Dr. Pearcy:

Thank you, Governor. Also want to thank Director Krause. As the mother of a new college student, who will be moving on campus next week, thank you for what you're doing for keeping her safe and all college students safe.

Dr. Pearcy:

A bit of good news today. Our case counts continue to stabilize or even decline in some of our large and mid city Metro areas... Mid sized city Metro areas. We are still seeing an uptick in our rural areas, but as we are seeing a trend nationally, we've been seeing a rise and then a decline in first urban, and then midsize, and then rural areas. With the stabilization, or even decline in our urban and midsize cities, we are cautiously optimistic that we will soon start to see that decline in our rural areas, but encourage everyone to keep making their efforts to do so. We're also very encouraged that with some very recent data, that five out of the last six days, our positivity rate has been less than 10%. That, again, is another indication that we're trending in the right direction. I want to take this moment to thank you for your efforts and to ask you to keep them up.

Dr. Pearcy:

What you may have also noticed is that our testing numbers are down a bit. Last week our average was about 20,000 tests per day. And in the two to three weeks before that it was in the mid to upper twenties. There are a few reasons we think that that may be the case. And I talked about this last week, but we continue to see the same trend. First of all, fortunately, we believe there are less sick people. When we look at our COVID-like illness, syndromic surveillance curve, which is a fancy way of saying a way we track symptoms of people that are coming into emergency departments. We have seen a sustained decline in those symptoms, so we do believe there are less sick people out there. We also know that given some of the lab capacity and turn around issues that some providers in some labs are prioritizing specimens based on those who are symptomatic. That is starting to ease up some, but that may reduce the number of people tested.

Dr. Pearcy:

I do want to take this opportunity to remind you that regardless of symptoms, you can have a test at your local health department for free. Finally, one of the big concerns that I have as it relates to testing numbers is that people may actually be avoiding getting a test because they've heard about the long turnaround times. I want to encourage you by letting you know that our statewide average is now down to two and a half days. That may not mean that you're going to get your result in two and a half days, because there's still a bit of an additional time for reporting and calling, but the statewide average is down. I will remind you, it's so critically important that if you have symptoms, not to delay or to avoid based on lab turnaround times. Go ahead and get that test and know your status.

Dr. Pearcy:

And finally, if you're wondering what you can do to help, I know you realize I'm going to say wash your hands, and wear your mask, and keep your distance. But there are a couple of other things that you may not have thought of that you really can do to help, not only yourself, but also your community and your society. One of them is to donate convalescent plasma. That's a big term for giving a blood product after you've been infected, so they can take the antibodies out of it and use it for other sick people to help them recover faster. I think you may hear a little bit more about that in just a few minutes. Also, I encourage you to volunteer, to participate in a clinical trial. There are lots of products in development right now for both treatment and prevention, and you can participate if you want to volunteer by going to Coronavirus.gov and looking at additional information and locations where you can sign up. Thanks so much.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thanks Dr. Pearcy. I too want to thank Director Krause and President Oldham. I actually have a nephew going to your school, this fall and person, so I'm grateful for the security, for the safety efforts that you're making and the efforts you're providing for all Tennesseean's. We do have one more comment, but I think I'll save those comments for after questions. Let's go ahead and start question.

Speaker 1:

Governor, you teased us a little earlier saying you talked to the chancellor about football and the SEC, can you expand on that a little bit? Have you learned anything about whether there'll be playing football?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. I just called her to see what the efforts that she was making. She had just met with student athletes. They are making provisions to make sure that if that college football season goes forward, they'll do so in a safe way to get students on the field. But I wanted to know the direction of where she felt that it was going, but I haven't made additional push for that. I want to lend my support. I do think we're moving toward college football in Tennessee, and anything I can do to support that in a safe way, I'm happy to do it.

Speaker 1:

I think you heard you say, "I think we're moving toward college football in Tennessee in a safe way," which would... I mean, you had to ask her. Is SEC going to play?

Governor:

I'm sorry?

Speaker 1:

You had to ask her, the chancellor, is the SEC going to play?

Governor Bill Lee:

She didn't have an answer for that, at the time we had that conversation.

Speaker 1:

On a very much different note, if I may, you probably heard and noticed that the protesters outside are gone. Do you have a message for them?

Governor Bill Lee:

I've said all along that what we want to do in this state is provide an opportunity for people to exercise their first amendment rights. It's foundational to our country. It's a part of who we are as America. And we need to make sure that we provide protection for that. At the same time, we need to make certain that we do not tolerate lawlessness, breaking the law, and those things associated with non peaceful protests. That's what I would say is we want to provide protection for anyone who wants to express their first amendment rights, but we want to do so in a way that's lawful.

Speaker 2:

Hi Governor. You said that there were some aspects you would have done differently in the protest bill. Do you agree with the component that makes it a felony to camp on state property? And why do you think protestors that have been out here should be felons and lose certain rights and that sort of thing, essentially go to jail or prison?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. That felony provision also has a warning provision that mitigates. I think that strengthens the bill, and with regard to that particular issue, I'll just say that as you know, I proposed language and that was amended in different ways. That's how the process works. The legislature ultimately has the decision about what a piece of legislation looks like. I commend them for a call to session with this in mind, passing a piece of legislation that ensures lawlessness doesn't occur in the midst of protest. On balance, that's what this accomplishes, it provides clarity, and that's why I'll sign it.

Speaker 2:

Did you prefer the misdemeanor or where you, in fact-

Governor Bill Lee:

There are a lot of different provisions that I might've done differently, but that's again on balance. It accomplished what I wanted. I wanted a bill to provide for what this bill provides for, so that's the reason I'll be signing it.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

Speaker 3:

Hi, Governor. Going back to schools. Obviously as people go back to schools, the numbers of positive tests will rise. We have schools like one in Lebanon. People came back and on the first day, all of a sudden somebody tested positive and half the class is now going back and learning remotely once again. Thoughts on that, do you think still sending kids back to schools is the best decision? Especially when you have kids like that, you get their hopes up to come back and all of a sudden, they're not only going back to working remotely and learning remotely, but now they're quarantining as well.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. It's really important that kids get back to school, and we need to provide an opportunity for them to do so. Face to face learning is academically preferable, but there are a tremendous number of reasons why staying home is not a safer alternative, necessarily, then going to a classroom. Mental health, child abuse, children with disabilities, children who don't have nutrition, children who don't have a stable environment to live in. Those are all safety and health concerns for children. We believe and are committed that kids in a classroom fair better than those that don't. At the same time, we know there are going to be cases. We know that we have to do this in an incredibly safe way. I've been very proud of and pleased with the efforts that districts have made, that teachers have made. The white house task force has commended our efforts in providing personal protective equipment for our teachers, so that they can teach safely and efficiently our kids.

Governor Bill Lee:

We also have a very clear plan for what to do when there is a case or a number of cases in a school. There is a matrix that's designed uniquely for counties. There are different categories of counties that allow for different responses in schools. We've worked for months knowing this was coming and knowing that what's best for our kids is to have them back in school. But I think the overriding belief that I have is that parents should have a choice of how their children are educated. We have an obligation to provide an environment for those parents to make that choice. To either have their children learn remotely, and every child has the opportunity to do that in the state of Tennessee, if the parent chooses that. But to go to class in person.

Speaker 3:

On a different note, being nominated to the Council of Governors, your thoughts about that? And also should you get selected? Anything you want to see happen?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. I'm very honored to be chosen or to be nominated by the President to be on that Council of Governors. It's a small group of governors who advise on policy at a national level. I'm very honored to have been nominated and look forward to the opportunity to serve there.

Speaker 4:

Hello Governor. Yesterday, included in the Bill protecting state property, there was a measure to increase penalties for assault offenses against law enforcement officers. The TBI has reported a 29% increase in assault related offenses against law enforcement officers over the last five years. I wondered if you considered that bill to go far enough, or would you plan to bring further legislation next year?

Governor Bill Lee:

Our law enforcement... We have an incredibly professional group of men and women who operate in law enforcement across the state. We need to make sure that those that are protecting our citizens are protected against harassment or violence against them. This bill does that. In fact, I've had on this very stage, TBI Chiefs of Police, Sheriff's organizations, to talk about how it is that we can strengthen our law enforcement policies, how it is that we can provide greater protection for citizens. And at the same time, we have to protect the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. So I think this bill accomplishes that.

Speaker 4:

And also on a different note, both Oklahoma and South Carolina have instituted programs using federal coronavirus relief funds to assist families struggling financially from the coronavirus to keep their children in the school of their choice.

Governor Lee:

I'm sorry. To assist?

Speaker 4:

To assist families struggling financially, to keep their children in a school of their choice. You're going to the stimulus accountability group later this afternoon. I wondered if that's something that you've considered or discussed with them?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we've, as you know, there's a pandemic ABT program that we are working hard to reach those eligible students. We've served around almost, I believe 500,000 students in that process. Daniel Barnes spoke about that yesterday and our continued efforts to utilize partners across the state to get that nutrition funding to those students and we're making every effort to do so.

Speaker 4:

Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Sam?

Sam:

Yeah, trying to bounce off Jonathan's question a little bit on the provision in the protesting related bill, do you feel that making camping after the warning and so forth in restricted areas and making that a felony, how is that going to mesh with your criminal justice reform plan? And does it mesh at all?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. Criminal justice reform is a, to me, it's a very important subject going forward. It's been something I've talked about before I became governor, things I worked on before I became governor. I've also said that criminal justice reform includes the understanding that you can be tough on crime and smart on crime at the same time. That's what good criminal justice reform is. It's making sure that you appropriately address lawlessness, but at the same time, be innovative and creative on how it is that you rehabilitate, how you use diversion, how you use community supervision, what you do with reentry, how you look at sentencing grids and make changes there. It's a significant and enormous effort that is absolutely worth doing and we will continue to. We had a significant push in the legislature, in the regular session, that was suspended because of COVID, but we'll continue down that path.

Sam:

Yeah. And, one more thing on that bill. I believe it has a fiscal impact of $500,000 on the state and about $700,000 on local governments. I mean, are we creating bigger government here by passing this?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think one of the things that we do is we protect from the destruction of property that costs significant taxpayer dollars to replace, to retrofit, to clean. We had businesses with windows broken and property stolen. We had a courthouse on fire. We had law enforcement cars destroyed. There's been significant property damage when lawlessness takes the place of peaceful protest and this bill will prevent that as well.

Sam:

But isn't that type of vandalism already illegal?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry?

Sam:

Isn't that type of vandalism already illegal?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think what this bill attempts to do is to mitigate every type of legal activity around this subject in a greater way.

Sam:

Okay.

Speaker 5:

This is not a policy question, but it's for you or Dr. Pearcy. I'm looking for some information. I've been having a hard time getting it. Your department gave me a list of 20 or so people that are doing testing, but I can't find any contracts and I've asked several people. Do you know who the keeper is of these contracts? And because I've-

Governor Bill Lee:

Contracts?

Speaker 5:

... Or, PO orders, whatever financial arrangements the state has made with the 20 or so outfits that report the tests.

Dr. Pearcy:

Yeah, thanks. That's a good question. And it allows me the opportunity to clarify. The state does not have a contract with any labs, specifically. We have multiple, multiple labs in our vendor list and when labs have additional capacity, or if they're proximate to a testing site, for example, if there's a lab in Knoxville, we might send specimen there, but there are no contracts. So that's why you can't find them.

Speaker 5:

So that means that everybody is getting paid to do the same swab or everybody is getting paid the same for a test kit used or something like that and that's just how it's done?

Dr. Pearcy:

That's right.

Speaker 5:

And, how many people are involved in this? How many different outfits? You've got hospitals, you've got private labs, right? You've got a whole-

Dr. Pearcy:

So the standard payment for any lab, at least from the state, is a hundred dollars. And that's been the same ever since the beginning. There are 29 or 30 labs that process labs for Tennesseans. So we keep, and actually that's where my comment earlier from turnaround time came, which is we keep a list of all of the labs that have processed Tennessee specimens for the last seven days. And I think that number is plus or minus, 30. Maybe 29 or 31. Many of those are hospital labs that are testing their own hospitalized patients, which is a fabulous offering and I want to applaud them and continue to encourage them to do so, because that allows for a very quick turnaround. And then you've got several commercial, private labs that are mostly in the state. There are a few out of state. Then our state public health lab has two locations. And then there are at least two large national corporations, LabCorp and Quest. So all of those process Tennessee samples-

Speaker 5:

Sorry, what are the two large ones?

Dr. Pearcy:

LabCorp and Quest. And all of those are the labs that process Tennessee specimens.

Speaker 5:

Thank you.

Dr. Pearcy:

Thank you.

Blake Farmer:

I have a Dr. Piercey question, I think. This is Blake Farmer, WPLN News, hiding behind this mask. My question, health wise, we heard that you all were going to be tracking schools as there were outbreaks. Already, of course, this is beginning to happen. It seems a little hodgepodge on how that gets reported publicly. It really seems more targeted at parents. Where will you all be publicizing where there are outbreaks around the state?

Dr. Pearcy:

So Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee unveiled a dashboard on Tuesday for both the operational status of virtual hybrid in person and that is also the same venue where closure status, and whether that's partial, full or fully opened, will be posted.

Blake Farmer:

And do you feel like schools are being open enough about the situation within their buildings?

Dr. Pearcy:

I haven't encountered any situation where a school wasn't completely transparent with parents or with the health department. We've been very pleased with the response so far.

Blake Farmer:

Thank you. Governor, quick question for you. But on education you've been, we've obviously asked a lot of teachers this semester, of course, when you all revised the budget, you took out their raises. We learned today that revenues come in substantially higher than expected. Could you foresee putting those raises somehow back in or helping teachers out in this time?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. Well, let me first just say how important a role teachers are playing right now. They're doing work. They're always doing hard work. They do the hard work of teaching kids, but in this environment, they're being asked to do a lot of hard work, and we're grateful for what they're doing. They're going to allow us to get this accomplished. Regarding changes to the budget, that occurs in a legislative session. And so the legislature will, there will be another proposed budget for the next session in January that will be voted on at the end of the session. And I'm sure all sorts of issues around funding, different measures will be taken up.

Governor Bill Lee:

Much is yet to be seen about our economic recovery. Our revenues are better than expected, but we still have significant revenue deficits relative to what was in line before the pandemic, so that'll all be part of the calculus.

Blake Farmer:

When you say deficits, I mean, I understand it's a very complicated, enormous budget, but I mean, the actual revenues, my understanding from July, were larger than they were one year ago. Is there something I'm missing there?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, you have budgeted revenues and actual revenues. So you pay, you base your budget on what anticipated revenues are going to be as a state grows, as its population grows, as businesses grow, you have an increase in anticipated revenues. So the actual revenues are significantly less than the anticipated revenues, which is what profoundly impacts a budget and the spending associated with it.

Blake Farmer:

And just to be clear, I don't hear you saying that you anticipate coming back, trying to do some sort of mid year boosts to teacher pay.

Governor Bill Lee:

I don't anticipate having a special session to address budget issues between now and January, no.

Blake Farmer:

Thank you.

Caresse Jackman:

Afternoon, Governor Lee. Caresse Jackman here with News 4. Just following up on his question about this school data and COVID-19, can you please explain to us what it looks like? Will it be district by district? Will it be a weekly, daily thing? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I'm going to let Commissioner Schwinn, yeah. Would you please step up and give the particulars about that?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Sure. Hi, nice to see you. So we have a dashboard that was published, and right now that dashboard encompasses information related to anticipated start date, whether it is remote, hybrid or fully in person. Districts will start updating that through a shared drive, ideally on a daily basis around these closures, as they happen. What that dashboard is, is you can go on the website, you type in the district name, it gives you the status of the district and then you can drill down for specific schools.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Now, again, districts will start updating that as of right now, and again, this information will change. But as of right now, we've had 10 school closures, four of those schools have already reopened, six are still in remote. So we are looking at that pretty closely and that is again, as of right now, that can change at any point, but that's why the dashboard will be so important. Districts will update that regularly.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, great seeing you too. And one more question for you Governor Lee. Today in the National Mayors Press Conference, Dr. James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College said that students will get sick and some will even die because elected officials push for schools to reopen instead of listening to healthcare officials. So your response to this please, because I know you've said even in this press conference that students will get sick, there are probably going to be COVID-19 cases, but why take that risk?

Governor Bill Lee:

When students remain home, with no nutrition and no access to mental health services and no access to disability services, and when our child abuse reporting is decreased by 27%, since schools have been out and we know that child abuse... That means children are likely being harmed at home. This idea that it's safe to keep everyone at home in many cases for tens of thousands of children, at home alone, that's just simply not true.

Caresse Jackman:

But is exposure the solution too? Possible exposure [crosstalk].

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, the solution is to provide what's best for children, to provide every parent a choice, and if a parent chooses for their child to go into a classroom in person, then you make that classroom as safe as possible by providing PPE for teachers and protocols as was discussed earlier for Tennessee Tech, the same thing that's happening in schools, that's the way forward. That's how we protect kids and we provide for the best outcomes for them at the same time.

Governor Bill Lee:

We believe that's the best move forward and our health experts that we consult with daily, both on our team and as advisory level around the team, including the CDC who has also advocated for in-person schooling, believe that we're taking the right approach.

Caresse Jackman:

Thank you.

Speaker 4:

Good afternoon Governor. [crosstalk].

Governor Bill Lee:

[inaudible].

Speaker 6:

You've been asked about this Protest Bill, obviously, but you haven't explicitly said whether you are against making it a felony to set up a tent on the Plaza. So to clarify for the record, do you feel like this amounts to any measure of meaningful criminal justice reform to make it a felony punishable up to six years for these people to be charged with?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think when a bill doesn't constitute criminal justice reform... Criminal justice reform is a broad effort that as I said earlier, includes any number of things, diversion, reentry, sentencing grids, looking at the entirety of the system, which is something that I have a great deal of interest in doing going forward and will continue to do going forward.

Governor Bill Lee:

This bill addresses exactly what it was intended to address, which is the clarity around camping bill, for example. I said there were things I would have done differently. I also think on that felony piece, the warning component to that mitigates and the discretion of district attorneys or judges of the judiciary in those circumstances mitigates... I think the bill in broad terms accomplishes what we wanted to do.

Speaker 6:

So, broadly, yes it achieves the goal, specifically that charge, is that what you would have done differently?

Governor Bill Lee:

Oh, I've said that that piece of it, I would have proposed differently in the language that I had.

Speaker 6:

You would have proposed it remain a misdemeanor?

Governor Bill Lee:

I would have proposed it differently. I don't remember the language we had specific around that, but I would have proposed it differently, but I am pleased with the way that that provision for warning mitigates that concern.

Speaker 6:

If the protesters show back up, they take a couple of days off and they head back out there, would you advise the Tennessee highway patrol not to arrest them on that felony charge once this bill becomes law?

Governor Bill Lee:

I would advise law enforcement to follow the law. The legislature has done what I asked them to do and I actually didn't ask them to do it. They wanted to do that. We work together to get this done. We've seen lawlessness play out in the previous months here. We've seen it play out in a big way across the country. We don't want that to be playing out again in our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

So that's why we need clarity in the law, which is what this bill provides. But law enforcement will be instructed to follow the law and to enforce the law and as will citizens and that's the way it should work. That's really what law and order civil society is and I think we're moving in the right direction here.

Speaker 6:

Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you.

Speaker 7:

Governor, that's the time we have for questions.

Governor Lee:

I do have one more guest. So we talked a little bit about donating plasma for COVID-19. Joseph Williams, who is a member of our team is here to share a little bit about his personal experience with COVID and our growing understanding of clinical evidence and the opportunities that we have to serve our neighbors.

Joseph:

Thank you, Governor for having me today. It's an honor to be here with all of you, to highlight the special work being done by institutions and citizens in our great state, as we fight COVID-19 with both transformational research and ordinary service by everyday citizens.

Joseph:

In mid-March after developing a very dry cough and an even stranger loss of taste and smell, I tested positive for COVID-19. It's the sickest I've ever been in my whole life with a myriad of strange symptoms. My wife and three young boys who are five, three, and one year old, all had COVID as well. Multiple friends my own age, were hospitalized at the same time, but we were all grateful that we could recover.

Joseph:

We wondered afterwards how we could help and serve in these unique times. Luckily, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, right here in Nashville, is a global leader in medical research on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, partnering with Tennessee treasure, Dolly Parton, and many others to treat this virus and save lives. All five members of our family, in addition to many of our friends and what amounts to more than 600 individuals and more than 300 families quickly enrolled in Dr. Natasha Halasa's COPE study, which stands for Coronavirus Outbreak Pandemic Exploration.

Joseph:

While my young boys were a little cautious at first and not the most excited to give blood and have their noses swabbed regularly, they quickly fought to line up to go first once we explained to them that this was a wonderful opportunity to uniquely love their neighbors and help other people who are really sick, even if we didn't know who they were personally. The fear from the virus in the pandemic quickly gave way to purpose and service, virtues that Tennesseans have always exemplified so well.

Joseph:

Weeks after I recovered, Dr. Allison Wheeler at Vanderbilt started a study on blood plasma donations from COVID survivors. I'd never donated blood plasma before, but I enrolled because I wanted to do anything I could to help. Vanderbilt continues to research how blood plasma from patients like me, who have antibodies to the virus can treat patients with serious or life threatening COVID-19 infections.

Joseph:

Multiple times now, including earlier this week on Monday afternoon, I've gone to Vanderbilt and spent a couple of hours donating blood plasma. Each donation can help four patients suffering from COVID-19. I've enjoyed meeting everyday Tennesseans from all walks of life, all ages and backgrounds as we sit there and we participate in the study, taking a few hours to donate convalescent blood plasma, to help the research and save lives.

Joseph:

The Governor always loves talking about how Tennessee can lead the nation because of the spirit of our people and the strength of our institutions like Vanderbilt. Thank you to Dr. Bowser, Dr Halasa, Dr. Wheeler and everyone they're treating, our neighbors in need. I'd like to encourage Tennesseans to continue doing what needs to be done to keep our families and our communities safe.

Joseph:

I urge my fellow Tennesseans today who have recovered from COVID to make an appointment, to go donate blood plasma, and I'd encourage all Tennesseans to donate blood as our supplies continue to run low. It's an opportunity to teach our children the volunteer spirit of our great state, Tennessee, to love our neighbors and to save lives. Thank you for having me today. Thank you for coming. Thank you Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, Joseph. Thank your family for serving and for reminding Tennesseans about a new way that they can serve their neighbors, particularly those who have already faced COVID-19. Thank you for being with us. We'll be back next week.