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August 18, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you for joining for our Tuesday briefing. It's not just any Tuesday, today, a hundred years ago, a pivotal day in American history and in Tennessee history. Today, celebrates that 100th anniversary of a pivotal role that Tennessee played in the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women in this country the right to vote, constitutionally, Tennessee women are trailblazers. And for sure in our state, in fact, that day served as the tipping point to what would be a new place in history for women, and to pave the way for even enhanced and increase contributions that women would make in the areas of science and medicine and education and the arts and government, for the next 100 years. And I'm proud of the role that our state played in making certain that the 19th Amendment was ratified and became part of the Constitution. That decision happened on a hot August day, right here in this Capitol a hundred years ago today, and we should all be proud of that.

Governor Bill Lee:

Today. We'll have reports from Labor and Workforce. We will have reports from Health and reports from Education, but first I want to welcome two special guests that we have today, to talk about SCC football, University of Tennessee Chancellor, Donde Plowman and University of Tennessee Athletic Director of Phillip Fulmer, have joined me today to talk more about football time in Tennessee. And as they safely welcome students back to campus and athletes back onto the field. We've already seen success of live venue sports in our state. I was in Bristol a few weeks ago for the NASCAR race, where some 25,000 fans attended and saw that race, and then health officials reported weeks later that there were no cases associated with that. So, it's important to remember that we can return safely. It's up to us, minor adjustments like wearing a mask, will make that possible.

Governor Bill Lee:

And I am proud of the efforts that the University of Tennessee has made, to make sure that we can enjoy games and that we can enjoy one less cancellation in 2020. Chancellor Plowman has been a tremendous advocate for students and for making sure that at the University of Tennessee, the disruptions of COVID-19, don't disrupt the mission of that university to provide a world class education and opportunity for students. And coach Fulmer's expertise and reputation, the SCC has been a tremendous asset in getting this done with regard to football.

Governor Bill Lee:

I want to thank president Boyd for his leadership as well. UT'S approach has been effective and impressive, and I'm pleased with the direction that our flagship university is headed. So if you would please, Chancellor Plowman, come up and give a few remarks about the return of football at the University of Tennessee.

Chancellor Plowman:

Thank you governor, so much. I was excited to come over here. I hadn't thought about the fact that hundred years ago today, so to be standing here in this Capitol at your podium, that's a moment in my life I'll never forget. So thank you.

Chancellor Plowman:

Tennessee football means so much to the people in our state, and we appreciate your partnership and your support, and everyone saw what he was wearing today. So we know you love Auburn, but we're glad that you love Tennessee at the University of Tennessee. I know Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer had conversations with Commissioner Izelle about Bristol, and we want to learn more about the best practices from that experience. We understand it was really good. We appreciate the collaboration and your administration's partnership in sharing the best practices aimed at protecting health and safety for anyone who may enter our stadium. We've said from the beginning, that of this health crisis, our primary responsibility at the university, is to ensure the health and safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty, and staff.

Chancellor Plowman:

And within the context of athletics, our focus first and foremost is the health and wellbeing of our student athletes. At UT, we have strong leadership in the athletic department, and you're going to get to hear from him in just a minute. And we're so fortunate to have in the SCC, the really capable leadership of our commissioner, Greg Sankey. He has stressed from the beginning, the importance of having a well-developed plan, going slow, being deliberative, learning as we go, and that's what we've done. And it served the conference well, and we're trying to do the same thing at University of Tennessee. So together with the SCC, we have created a responsible plan and have followed that every step of the way, continuing to adapt and add protocols for our athletes as we learn more. Our players understand they have a personal responsibility to follow all of the protocols established by our medical staff around COVID-19.

Chancellor Plowman:

And I'm so proud of the way they're actually leading the campus, wearing their masks, social distancing, following health and safety protocols that have been given to them. And I want to just share with you a little bit how the SCC makes its decisions. The decisions about whether we play, how we play, the policies and the procedures, are made by a group of presidents and chancellors, and I serve on that group. As chancellor, I represent Tennessee, we meet at least once a week, sometimes twice, sometimes three times a week. We're guided by the input of the commissioner and we have ... and we're guided by the athletic directors and the coaches. We have an amazing SCC medical task force made up of, epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, team doctors, sports medicine experts from each of our universities. They've been meeting regularly, two/three times a week and helping us and specifying protocols. We seek their advice and we follow their advice.

Chancellor Plowman:

So we've worked with the SCC to be deliberate. And so at Tennessee, we have slowed the return of student athletes to practice. Our players have been on campus for more than two months and have had limited access. They haven't even been using a football. We started practice yesterday. So that's how slow and careful we've been. The conference delayed the opening of the season, I think everyone knows that, until September 26, in respect to the start of the fall semester. Again, the words of the commissioner, "Go slow, be deliberate." The conference changed, as I know you all know, to a conference only scheduled to establish better consistency about testing and to feel really good about the same testing standards that we're all using. We developed and announced COVID-19 testing protocols and other health measures.

Chancellor Plowman:

At the university of Tennessee, we follow the medical staff advice and especially the advice of the SCC with the medical task force. The COVID testing program requires that our players be tested a minimum of once a week during practice. And once we start playing games, three times a week. Any players who need to isolate will undergo a thorough cardiac evaluation prior to returning to activity. We understand that concerns remain about COVID-19 and the leadership and the athletic department are very transparent. They're communicating with the players and their parents constantly about these challenges. We have been intentional in talking with our players at both the university and conference levels. I've met with the football team a couple of times myself, listening to them, what are their concerns, what are their questions, and trying to answer them. Players who choose to opt out from playing during COVID-19 and due to this, will retain their scholarships and remain in good standing with the team.

Chancellor Plowman:

We said from the outset that the circumstances around this virus would guide our decision making and that's been the case we've taken at every step. Our players, our coaches are working very hard. We are preparing to play and we remain hopeful that we will get to do so. We will listen to that medical task advisory group, and as the commissioner has said himself, "If they tell us it's not safe, we won't go forward." And that's been the philosophy of the SCC from the beginning. We understand that game day will likely be very different. And when coach Fulmer comes to the podium, I know he wants to talk about that. So thank you very much for inviting me, that's a brief update on what's happening with football.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you Chancellor.

Chancellor Plowman:

Yeah.

Governor Bill Lee:

Coach, why don't you come up and tell us what we can expect, a little more about what we can expect.

Coach Fulmer:

Well, first of all, I want to say how grateful we are to have this opportunity to be here and share time with you. And thank you for the tremendous work that you've done leading us in this state, through this challenge of COVID-19. I told some people this morning, "I've loved being the athletic director for the first two and a half years. I have not loved the last four or five months at all. It's been a challenge." But thank goodness for the leadership of Donde Plowman as our chancellor, and she told you most of what I ... I'll repeat some of it probably, the leadership of our governor and our medical staff force, that has been right there by our side and leading the way. As chancellor Plowman said, the Southeastern conference has taken a very deliberate approach to gather data and to make decisions as they learn more about this virus and how it affects our young people. The health and the safety is paramount to our charge to take care of our young people.

Coach Fulmer:

Obviously, attendance this fall is, is one of the discussions that constantly come up. We're grateful for our good friends at Bristol and the efforts that they made to, again, pave the way to some degree, for what we're getting ready to do. But obviously whatever happens, it's clear that the capacity and Neyland Stadium will be reduced. If we get to start on time, or if it's a later date in the fall or next spring, because of social distancing. We're anticipating somewhere around the 25% mark and we hope to be able to achieve that. Obviously, we need our community and our students and our players. I think our players in all sports have led the way, and our coaches have led the way, we need everybody to continue to wear masks and be responsible. The SCC and our local health departments and our state health departments have established outstanding guidelines for us to follow.

Coach Fulmer:

Obviously, facial coverings will be required at the games, health screening for our employees, our vendors, our contractors along the way. We've gone to mobile ticketing, which means that we will not be handling the tickets back and forth from each other. Zone entries, so that we can get people to their seats in a more convenient way, that we're not crossing paths with lots of people. Plexiglass at the concessions. Cleaning efforts, we actually have a stadium clean team established for the ball games. So, we're looking forward to the start of the season. We're looking at different aspects that go along with Southeastern Conference Football, like tailgating, certainly band protocols in any way that we can, we need to avoid large gatherings. And so, we're looking at those as we go along, and my take on it is we probably won't have those. Game day traditions like the [inaudible] walk and a van march could very well be unsafe for everybody concerned. So again, we're kind of making the decision, that we will probably not have those.

Coach Fulmer:

One of the questions I'll know I'll get quickly is the financial impact. Obviously with social distancing, the reduction of the capacity of who can come to the games. There's 30 to $40 million loss that's there, that we will have to figure out as we go along. We've been very proactive in the cost cutting measures since last spring, as we've made 20% cuts in our budgets all across the athletic department, a hiring freeze. And we know that there's more things coming, as we deal with the academic side of campus, and try to figure it out.

Coach Fulmer:

Our medical staff has been tremendous. Dr. Chris Clink and Jason McVeigh have led the way with boots on the ground and have done a tremendous job. We've had 23 cases since May, a good portion of those came right after July the fourth. And unfortunately, some people gathered too much. So that again, made a statement to our athletes, that we need to be fully committed to get football where it needs to be, to stay safe for each other and stay safe for our loved ones. But again, we're appreciative of the opportunity, and I think we'll be available afterwards if there are other questions. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, Coach. And thanks for staying around for questions too.

Governor Bill Lee:

I want to move to a couple of items of business before we get to more reports. I want to address the work of the Department of Education's Child Wellbeing Taskforce and questions that have come up surrounding our work to support vulnerable and at risk students. I think parents are the authority on how their children should be educated and efforts around child wellbeing or check-ins are suggestions for local engagement. They don't represent any sort of overreach and shouldn't represent an overreach into what parents think is best for their children. The Department of Education remains focused first and foremost on safe reopening of our schools and ensuring that our kids receive a high quality education in Tennessee public schools and that will be the primary focus.

Governor Bill Lee:

Next, I want to briefly address critical infrastructure worker designations in schools. Given the disruptive effects of COVID-19, quarantine, and isolation on teaching and providing other essential services in schools we know that some districts throughout the state are designating certain school staff as critical infrastructure workers. This designation is not being made according to a state policy or authority, but our departments of health and education are providing a set of minimum required precautions that are necessary for any school district implementing this critical infrastructure approach for their employees.

Governor Bill Lee:

We believe in the benefits of in-person instruction, and we believe that appropriate COVID safety measures have to be taken for our students and our teachers and our community. Critical infrastructure is often interchangeably used with essential workers and I want to point out with the expiration of safer at home orders there is no essential or non-essential distinction in the workplace in Tennessee. Every worker is essential to the forward movement of making Tennessee a great place to work and live and raise a family.

Governor Bill Lee:

Finally, the administration continues to how best to evaluate the reporting of cases in districts for public information and the required privacy restrictions placed on us by the federal government. The Department of Education has a dashboard. They currently report the status of in-person or remote learning, but to add greater transparency to the way COVID-19 is operating in our communities right now, I've asked the Department of Health to create a resource that shows COVID-19 data for age five through 18 children by county. Dr. Piercey will share more about this enhanced pediatric data that we're rolling out to help the public have greater understanding of COVID-19 and returns to schools. Let's start with commissioner Schwinn, if you would give your report.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Thank you Governor. A brief report for today just on the reopening of schools. As you know about a third of our districts opened last week, we have another third that will be opening this week, and that will leave about 15 districts left to open between now and September 8th. A special shout out to Carter County in East Tennessee who's on their second day of opening. They're doing a 25% capacity slow growth back into school and doing phenomenal job. A couple of quick updates. I've had the great privilege to be able to visit schools over the last couple of weeks, was in schools just as recently as last week, we'll be in schools tomorrow. Some emerging best practices that we're seeing, making sure all of our students, especially the young ones, have opportunities to practice with computers, if and when there needs to be temporary closures of classrooms or school buildings. We're also seeing a lot of teachers doing the same thing.

Commissioner Schwinn:

They're able to toggle back and forth supporting those children whose families have chosen to educate their children at home, and then also making sure that students in classrooms are getting the resources that they need. Finally, a special thank you. We've had a ton of organizations across the state at the local level. Who've been providing additional support to our schools and to our classrooms specifically as it relates to those critical services that we know people rely on. So folks like YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, our churches, communities, and schools, and other organizations have been putting in time capacity and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, to make sure that our children stay fed, to make sure that special education services continue, and to make sure our schools can do the critical work of educating our kids. And as always, thank you very much to the superintendents, principals, teachers, families, and students. They're working really hard over the last couple of weeks to open up schools. It's really hard work. They've been spending all summer doing it and they're doing a great job. Thank you again.

Governor Bill Lee:

Dr. Piercey.

Dr. Piercey:

Thank you Governor. Good afternoon. Before I get started, I want to recognize the hundredth anniversary of women's suffrage. You know, for decades, there has been struggle and protest and debate, but in the end, Tennesseans were victorious. And in this greatest challenge that we've had in probably a century, Tennesseans will once again be victorious and I thank you for your efforts.

Dr. Piercey:

A couple of victories to share with you. One is that the White House data was updated yesterday and we're back in the yellow category. That's largely due to our lower positivity rate. The White House has us at 9.1%, but that data is about a week old. If you average our last seven days, we're actually at 8.6%. Thanks in part to today's very low positivity rate which is the lowest we've seen in several, several, weeks at 5.23%.

Dr. Piercey:

Another bit of good news is that our lab turnaround time is significantly down from where it's been. The statewide average is now 2.2 days. Of our 29 labs, who are running samples for Tennesseans, 19 of them have turnaround times of less than two days and seven of the 29 have turnaround times less than one day. That is entirely because these labs have put all hands on deck and have exhausted all of their supply chains to get, not only back to where we were, but actually a little bit better than where we were before the crunch started. So kudos and thanks to those labs.

Dr. Piercey:

And as the governor mentioned, I'm pleased to announce today that the Department of Health has added two new data sets to our website. These are under the "Educational Resources tab," again, Educational Resources tab on the Department of Health website. You will see two new data sets. The first one of those is cases in school-aged children. We define that as ages five to 18. And as the governor mentioned on that data set, you will see that broken down by age and we've segmented them to somewhat align with elementary, middle, and high school. So five to 10, 11 to 13, and 14 to 18. So that's an age breakdown for the state. And then you will see the number of cases broken down by county. Each county has the cumulative case count as well as the recent case count of number of cases in the last 14 days.

Dr. Piercey:

I encourage you to look at that, but a couple of points that you might find interesting from that data is our school aged children account for only about 10% of all of the cases statewide and over half of those are in high schoolers. So children ages 14 to 18. So we know that's the age when kids start going out on their own a little bit more, they're a bit more independent. So if you have high schoolers at home, like I do, you have to remind them to stay safe.

Dr. Piercey:

The other data set that we have posted is cases in all children. This is ages zero to 18. So you have the addition of statewide aggregate data for young children. You have that broken down in infants, so less than age one, and then preschool aged children and toddlers, which is ages one to four. In addition to those aggregate breakdowns, you'll see also aggregate information broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as comparative rates of children and adults in case rates, testing rates, and positivity rates.

Dr. Piercey:

So one more time, it's under the Educational Resources tab on the Department of Health's website and we believe that these new data sets in combination with the Department of Education's dashboard will help parents and school administrators make the best decisions for their children. Thanks.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you Dr. Piercey. Commissioner McCord will share a bit about unemployment numbers and our decision to extend $300 in weekly unemployment benefits.

Commissioner McCord:

Thank you Governor. I will be very brief as well, last week's Presidential memorandum gave states the opportunity to add enhance the benefits through a grant from FEMA to unemployment benefits in Tennessee, or in any state. That grant period to apply runs until September 10th, but Tennessee will be applying for that grant as early as tomorrow. So it will pursue that grant. The grant requires a 25% match from the state, but there is an option for that match to come from the state benefits currently being provided from the state. So that's a lot of words to mean that individuals in the state of Tennessee will be able to see a $300 benefit to their weekly unemployment benefits. In addition to the state benefit.

Commissioner McCord:

Now, a couple of points to make. This is a grant. It runs through, or is scheduled to run through July 26th, excuse me July 26th, December 26th. But since it is a grant, there are finite funds and so the way the grant works is when the funds are exhausted, the program is over. And so, we could run to December 26, or we could, as some estimates have us, depending on state participation, run for five or six weeks. The other caveat here as well is that if there is legislation from Congress, from the U.S. Congress addressing unemployment insurance, extended benefits, or enhanced benefits, the program will end as well. I think the takeaway here for us is that since we learned of this program, we've been working on that application in anticipation of this decision. And so again, we'll be submitting our application as early as tomorrow, but certainly before the end of the week. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you. It's a lot of information. So why don't we give you all the opportunity to ask questions, happy to open it up. We'll get started.

Speaker 1:

Hi Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

And everyone who had made a report obviously is on board, as well as our members of our unified command group.

Speaker 1:

I have one question for Coach Fulmer as well, right after this, if that's all right? The Titans made the decision not to allow fans, at least through September. Comparing that to 25% potential in Neyland Stadium. Is there a difference there, or why do you think that is the smart decision for the Titans?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I hope I get to watch Titan's football this year. I think that every leader, every organization, makes their own decisions. But we do believe there's a safe way to bring in person venues online for fans at an appropriate level to watch games. So we hope that will be the case, certainly it's going to be the case in the University of Tennessee and other universities across the SEC, we hope that'll be the case for Titans as well.

Speaker 1:

And Coach Fulmer, if I could ask you one question as well? Can you give us a sense of what 25% fans in Neyland stadium looks like? Do you ask people to sit a certain number of seats apart? Are you even to the planning process of that yet? Or how do you control essentially, let's just say 25,000 fans, in a stadium to make sure it's safe?

Coach Fulmer:

You know, we're well into the planning of that and social distancing that comes to the number is 25,000, as we spread out through the entire stadium. So staffing will be the same as if it were full, police force, all those kinds of things, because people will be all over the stadium.

Speaker 2:

But do you ask people to leave seats in between, how does that work?

Coach Fulmer:

Yes, yes, they can have some groups of six people. We're still playing with that number as to what it exactly is going to be right now it's six people, and we'll spread out from there.

Speaker 3:

This question is for Commissioner McCord.

Governor Bill Lee:

Commissioner McCord.

Speaker 3:

So wanted to follow up on your announcement about Tennessee, at least applying to participate in the new federal unemployment supplement program. Is that going to be run through the existing UI benefits program? Is Tennessee going to have to create a new system to distribute that money? I know that's been a question for some States.

Commissioner McCord:

That's a very good question, so over the last five months, we've created four new unemployment systems, or excuse me three, and we'll create a fourth, but it will run through the same website from the same interfaces, any of the other systems. And like the application, we've been working, getting guidance from USDOL to try to run things concurrently. But we don't have to build, it's within the same software package, but it really is a new system with different processes, different rules, and so we're working on that as we speak.

Speaker 3:

Okay. And then can you clarify the state's $100 match, where that money is coming from?

Commissioner McCord:

Sure. So we pay up to $275 for our weekly maximum benefits. So you're allowed to count the aggregate of those state benefits being distributed as your match for the federal benefit.

Speaker 3:

Okay. And then there's also been a question in other States, does this mean that the recipient would have to be getting at least $100 in state benefits already to qualify for that $300?

Commissioner McCord:

That is true. That's a requirement of the grant and not typical of unemployment insurance, but again, this is a federal grant and not the traditional funding source that you would have. But we feel obligated for Tennesseans to go if that money's available, to pursue that money and implement those systems, even with that restriction.

Speaker 3:

Should we expect another big slow down as you guys start rolling out this new system and processing claims?

Commissioner McCord:

So we are going to implement this as fast as we possibly can. And again, we have anticipated this decision, even though it wasn't made til today. And we were working on that concurrently. So my answer to you is we're working diligently not to have that happen.

Speaker 3:

Okay. Thank you.

Commissioner McCord:

Thank you.

Speaker 3:

And for the Governor, today the state NAACP says, they're calling on you to veto the protest bill, saying it goes against your stated goals for criminal justice reform. Do you have any response to that?

Governor Bill Lee:

You know, I think that bill was designed, as you know, and as I had suggested that we come forth with a bill that would protect the First Amendment rights of Tennesseans but at the same time prevent lawlessness and destruction of property, and the bill does that. As I've also said before, there were things I would have done differently with regard to that bill but on balance I think it accomplishes what we want to do. I am fully committed to criminal justice reform. It's been something I've talked about and advocated for and worked in for years, long before I became the governor. I'm committed to that, will continue to be committed to that, and this doesn't in any way change my belief that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed. There are significant components to that, and we'll be pursuing those.

Speaker 4:

Hey, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thanks.

Speaker 4:

I wanted to go back to the critical infrastructure and the policies that you will have the Department of Health and Department of Ed draft, well I guess, guidance, not policies regarding teachers and educators. Are those going to include, a lot of the policies we've seen from districts that boards that have adopted have allowed superintendents to designate who those employees are and I think the biggest point is that if they've been exposed to the virus, but have not test positive, they can still return to school. Is that going to be part of that guidance that is drafted and given to school districts?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, the decision is the district's and if they make that decision, then we have given them guidance that we believe they must follow if they choose that critical infrastructure decision. If they choose that policy on their own, then we're giving them guidance.

Speaker 4:

So they could choose that, would you support them-

Governor Bill Lee:

They can choose, that's right. Those districts can choose that designation.

Speaker 4:

Another question is about, and Dr. Piercey might want to answer this, but I would like to hear your thoughts. With the new tracking of school-aged cases, we still aren't linking adult cases to schools, which we've seen a number, I mean, we've seen dozens of staff members also contracting COVID-19 in schools. So it basically seems relatively not helpful for the public in terms of figuring out if kids and teachers are getting exposed to COVID-19 in schools. So what are your thoughts on what the health department has put out and if we can improve the information for the public?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. As I said, the real challenge is to provide as much information as possible, to provide for transparency and to give information that's important to the public, but to continue to provide and to adhere to privacy restrictions that FERPA and HIPAA require, and that's a balance. So you don't want patient re-identification. There's some very strong rules around that federally, balancing that is where the Department of Health has tried to do in adult cases, in counties and related to school districts and same with children's cases. You can add to that. But I think they're consistent, once this pediatric data will be available, it'll be consistent with the adult data for reporting in counties.

Dr. Piercey:

Yes, if you'll allow me, I want to go back to your first question and just double confirm that patients who have tested positive, they're not part of critical infrastructure. They are in isolation and we talked about that distinction a couple of weeks ago. Isolation is what you do when you've had a case. There are no exceptions to that. The quarantine is the exception for critical infrastructure for those who have been exposed but are symptom-free and their district has designated that they come back to work.

Dr. Piercey:

Related to child versus adult data, the governor's right, we are walking a very fine tight rope with HIPAA and FERPA and risk of re-identification. I realize it's really difficult for people to understand how one person perhaps in a school of 800 might be re-identified but when we look at all of our schools across the state, some of them have less than a hundred and, when you look at the re-identification algorithm, there are multiple variables, and if you have many of those, then the risk is too high, at least for HIPAA, on the health side. So it is a balance. We have seen many school districts voluntarily give that information and so we feel like with that, in addition to what we're providing, we can make good decisions.

Speaker 5:

What satisfies-

Speaker 4:

And with several districts already doing that and we've seen news reports, this football player at this school, are they not breaking FERPA and HIPAA laws then? Or is that okay? And it's the state doesn't want to identify it.

Dr. Piercey:

I can only speak for my agency, which is a fully covered HIPAA entity. That is the highest level of HIPAA standards. We would not be able to do that. If those school districts in consultation with their board attorneys feel like that's appropriate, then they have the right to do that.

Charise:

Hi, good afternoon. Just wanted to piggyback off of what you said earlier, Governor Lee. You talked about how obviously every worker is essential in a school district but considering that so many teachers and staff members are putting their lives at risk going back, are there any protections that are going to be in place for these teachers and staff members? Say they get sick, are they going to receive hazard pay? Are they going to have anything additional that they can have? Because a lot of them are still fearful of going back. That's my first question.

Governor Bill Lee:

So the challenge, of course, is to provide a safe environment for teachers. That's the reason we have worked really hard to create a matrix that gives guidance specifically to counties unique to the community spread in that county that has very strict protocols with regard to what to do when there is a case, how to quarantine, when to quarantine, when to separate, when to close a classroom or a hallway or a school. In combination with those protocols, the personal protective equipment required for every teacher to be safe, 80,000 such packets of that sent out. Those will all be delivered. Our goal is to have them all delivered by the end of August. Schools that are open have them delivered first, but every teacher will be provided with masks and gloves and disinfectant. Those protocols combined with personal protective equipment are the way that we believe that we can keep teachers safe.

Charise:

But I guess if anyone, in relation to like if they get sick, are they going to be given or allotted any more days or-

Governor Bill Lee:

I think as Dr. Piercey said, if a teacher tests positive, they won't be in the school. It's very clear and I can't speak to the specific examples of what happens when, because I don't know the matrix, but like any workers, if any teachers are sick, they will certainly not be in the school. If teachers are exposed there's protocols to that as well. So I guess what I can say is Department of Health has worked with Department of Education to create safe protocols for teachers.

Charise:

Okay, and then my next question is for Dr. Piercey. I know that you talked about it a little bit, the lady in front of me, when it comes to disclosure of information, but again we're seeing other states giving out this information, telling us, breaking down from districts, breaking down from all of that, why are we not doing that? Why are we still kind of staying generic in terms of giving out that data?

Dr. Piercey:

Yeah, that's a great question and actually I alluded to that in the previous answer. I've seen other states' reports and I've picked up the phone and called my counterparts there and said, "Hey, how are you doing this?" By and large what I found is that most of them are not fully covered HIPPA entities. There are different levels of HIPAA status. There's a hybrid, then there's one that has even a lower standard than HIPAA hybrid. We do have that highest level of HIPAA standards and so our data is protected at the highest level. So you will see that amongst different state health departments and other local health departments, they have different HIPAA statuses. And so that accounts for the difference.

Charise:

All right, and are you requiring districts to at least give you some kind of information off the cuff? Like every time you see a couple here in your district, can you please release that to us? Are you guys at least trying to put on a unified front for all districts to follow some kind of guidelines?

Dr. Piercey:

So if I'm understanding your question correctly, I think you're asking about coordination and communication between districts and the health department.

Charise:

Yes, ma'am.

Dr. Piercey:

So every health department has a school liaison, maybe saying that a different way, every school knows who their school liaison is in the health department. Even before the cases are confirmed through labs and through contact tracing, there is a phone call that happens, and that investigation starts right then and there because oftentimes there'll be a lag of a couple of days before that gets put in the system, before the contact tracing and it hits the official numbers, but we know we can't wait that long to make changes and actions at the school level. So that's where that coordination and communication are super important. Unfortunately we've seen that have to happen a few times already and it's worked beautifully and so we want to really strengthen and continue that partnership.

Charise:

Thank you both.

Dr. Piercey:

Thank you.

Speaker 6:

My question again is for Dr. Piercey, would you mind return? Thank you, ma'am.

Governor Bill Lee:

Should she just stay?

Speaker 6:

She's popular. Dr. Piercey, thank you for answering our questions. My colleague just kind of asked a similar question in one degree, but mine has to do with contract tracing. So we've been examining what contact tracing is being done in other states and how they are revealing that information to the public. For just a quick example, New Jersey shows where each tracer is in each county, Maryland shows how many cases and contacts were reached and completed, DC shows how many contacts were reached within 24 hours, Tennessee isn't revealing anywhere near that kind of information. So why isn't the state being more transparent and more forthcoming with information like this about contact tracing?

Dr. Piercey:

Yeah, that's a good question and contact tracing is an integral part of the entire response as you've made the good point. We've had significant efforts over the last, I would say, six or eight weeks to make major additions to our contact tracing workforce. We've brought in a contract agency as well as additional state employees and repurposed other state employees. I believe we're up to around 16 or 1,700 contact tracers now. And so we're watching metrics of theirs and making sure that they are getting to the folks within the first 24 hours, we're getting that mark most of the time, not all of the time. We're also taking note of how many contacts each case has, right now I believe we're at around 1.8 contacts per case, and so our information for contact tracing is only as good as what people tell us. So, first of all, they have to give good information, a phone number, be able to be reached. Secondly, they have to answer the phone when we call and then they have to give appropriate and accurate information. So we're doing a good job on our contact tracing and have made really big efforts to ramp up.

Speaker 6:

But the question is why isn't that data being shared with the public? Because you've got to wonder how people are supposed to know how many people are being traced in their county if they don't know how many people are being traced in their county.

Dr. Piercey:

Well, all of the active cases in any county are attempted to be traced. I'm not sure how helpful the contact tracing productivity metrics are, but that's certainly a good suggestion we can look at.

Speaker 6:

So my last question to you has to do with an investigation we've been working on into a health department investigation into a massage therapist where at least 15 women have now come forward saying that they have suffered some kind of sexual abuse at the hands of this massage therapist. The first case was in 2017 reported to the state. It wasn't until August of this year that there was even a hearing. Many of these women are very upset with the state saying, "Why did this take so long?" Do you have answers as to why this took so long to even have a hearing?

Dr. Piercey:

I'll tell you first off, I'm unfamiliar with the case you're referencing, but I can unequivocally tell you that that is unacceptable at every single level for a practitioner to ever have any inappropriate contact with a customer or a client. And so thank you for that heads up, and I'll be sure to take that back to licensure.

Speaker 6:

Final question about that is just is it acceptable to you? Is it acceptable to you that this has taken this long to even have a hearing that's this serious?

Dr. Piercey:

I won't comment on the merits of that case until I know more.

Speaker 6:

Okay. We'd like to talk to you when you'd find out about that.

Dr. Piercey:

Sure.

Speaker 7:

Dr. Piercey, before you walk off-

Dr. Piercey:

I'm trying to be respectful of the governor.

Speaker 7:

But months ago, you told us that it would be a violation of HIPAA to disclose clusters in nursing homes. You came back later after repeated questions and it says, "Well, actually, it's not." Now you're saying it's a violation of HIPAA to disclose clusters in schools. What's the difference?

Dr. Piercey:

It is a violation of HIPAA to disclose nursing home clusters. We took permission-

Speaker 7:

But you have.

Dr. Piercey:

Excuse me?

Speaker 7:

But you have disclosed those.

Dr. Piercey:

We have because CMS asked us to do so. And so if we get similar guidance from a federal agency for education, we'll be compliant with that, but that's the difference between nursing home and schools.

Speaker 7:

Have you asked for permission to disclose those?

Dr. Piercey:

From?

Speaker 7:

From a federal agency?

Dr. Piercey:

I haven't asked the department ... Excuse me, I haven't asked the department of education, but I don't believe anyone has asked to usurp those federal guidelines.

Speaker 7:

Governor, I actually have questions for you. You have repeatedly claimed that the state is supplying PPE to help teachers protect themselves. Do you understand that sock masks do not qualify as personal protective equipment?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think we've had a lot of conversation around the masks, and the efficacy of those masks from the very beginning, when we provided masks across the state, and it was shown that that efficacy was appropriate. And so that piece of personal protective equipment is a part of what we're providing.

Speaker 7:

The CDC says masks are not personal protective equipment. So when you say you're giving teachers PPE, that's not true.

Governor Bill Lee:

As you know, the CDC actually has applauded our efforts. They've seen the work and the personal protective equipment that we're providing. Dr. [Burks 00:01:55] actually in her press conference called out what Tennessee was doing, and the PPE that we were providing schools as a national best practice. So in fact, the CDC has not only approved, but agreed that what we're doing is a best practice.

Speaker 7:

But the CDC says on its website that masks are not PPE. Why do you still insist on calling them PPE?

Governor Bill Lee:

We provide PPE for all of our teachers. 80,000 PPE test kits, 80,000 packets for all of our teachers. Those packets include masks. That's a part of the PPE package that we provide, and the CDC has applauded that.

Speaker 7:

Some teachers have asked me to ask you that if you really care about their safety, why do you not issue a mandate requiring every single student in every single district to wear a mask when they are in those classrooms?

Governor Bill Lee:

You know, a lot of teachers, the vast majority of teachers in our state are looking forward to being in their classrooms, and have been supportive of the efforts that we've made toward teachers.

Governor Bill Lee:

We care deeply about teachers. We care deeply about students. We understand that masks are an important part of mitigating the spread, but what else we care about are parents, and what their decisions are for their five-year-old, and their six-year-old, and their seven-year-old. And so we believe that, especially for young people, we've given guidance for sixth grade and up for masks in schools, but for those kindergartners through sixth grade, we want parents to have the choice as to what their children do in those schools, and that's the guidance and suggestions we've given to schools.

Speaker 7:

So it's okay in your mind for parents to put teachers at risk by not requiring their children to wear masks.

Governor Bill Lee:

I think it's okay in my mind to let parents make the decisions about whether they're five-year-old should wear a to school.

Speaker 7:

What about a senior or a freshman [inaudible]?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we've given guidance that we believe school districts should have masks for sixth grade and up.

Speaker 7:

But you don't require it, sir.

Governor Bill Lee:

That's right. I think I've been real clear about requirements and mandates versus the implementation of local leadership bringing forth mask requirements, for example, in their individual counties. The approach has worked well.

Governor Bill Lee:

Again, the CDC, the coronavirus task force, the federal government has applauded that effort, and we're seeing it working in our state.

Speaker 7:

And a quick question about the protest bill. Do you feel it is justice to punish protesters more severely than someone who uses violence or intimidation to keep a person from voting? More severely than someone who abuses a child? More severely than a man who beats his wife?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think that the overall goal of that bill was to prevent lawlessness and destruction, and it accomplished that. I've been very clear that there were components of that bill that I would have done differently, but on balance, I think the bill accomplished what we wanted to get done.

Speaker 7:

Sexual contact with a minor by an authority figure is a Class A misdemeanor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Right.

Speaker 7:

Is it justice to say that overnight protests should be felonies?

Governor Bill Lee:

There are components of that bill that I did not think were what I would have suggested, and the language I suggested was different than what actually ended up in the bill, but on balance, I think it was the right thing to do.

Speaker 7:

Is that justice?

Governor Bill Lee:

On balance, I think it was the right thing to do.

Speaker 8:

Thank you, governor, for talking to us today. We have heard a lot of HIPAA privacy laws, but the reality is that they don't apply to elementary schools or secondary schools, and that's according to HSS. So technically the department of education could release this information without violating HIPAA laws. Why are we not doing that?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'll let Dr. Piercey ... Or actually either one. Both, because the guidance came from both departments.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Sure. I'm happy to talk about FERPA, and as it relates to education data, HIPAA, obviously for medical. For education data, what we are proposing and what we've put out, our districts will do that update when there are school building or partial building closures. As it relates to any kind of cases for specific students, that gets into the health department realm, and that reporting happens at the local level.

Commissioner Schwinn:

So certainly, we know that the health department is working closely with our schools and our districts around anyone who has tested positive and close contacts. That allows districts to make those really critical decisions about what needs to happen at the classroom or the building level. The department is making sure that we are communicating exactly what is happening as districts are reporting it to us, so we can monitor their continuous learning plans around closure.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Now, anything outside of that, again, we want to make sure that we are thinking about privacy, and as Dr. Piercey and I have both shared, FERPA is a higher standard even than HIPAA, and I know that we were surprised by that. So we are very, very careful about sharing any kind of student level data, especially when we think about this, and that's why we're sharing closures. We also expect to know that our schools and districts are sharing that critical information with the students and families that it impacts.

Speaker 8:

But commissioner, we've seen the dashboard the department of education has released, and it truly is not helpful. I mean, the information that is out there, the parents already know about that. If I have a [inaudible] in that school district, I already know that the school is closing or that the school is doing online. They really want to know if there's an outbreak in their schools, and your department is not sharing that.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Right, so those are local decisions. We want to make sure depending on the size of the school ... So for example, we have schools that are less than 200 students. If you have five students at a school in a specific classroom who have tested positive, you are in essence providing a grain size that is not appropriate for us to share at the state level.

Commissioner Schwinn:

We know that districts and schools are able to make the best decisions for their local communities, and knowing what is the right grain size to share. We have over 1800 schools, 147 districts, 975,000 students, over 100,000 staff. We want to make sure that if we're providing information, it is explicitly accurate to that local community, and that is the responsibility of the local district to determine the best way to share that information with their school stakeholders.

Speaker 8:

Putnam County has a very helpful dashboard out there that talks about cases in schools and also students that are in isolation or quarantine. Are they violating this FERPA law, then?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Again, and I'm going to say the same thing as Dr. Piercey, those local decisions, they are working with their local board attorneys.

Speaker 8:

What's the difference? What's the difference between your department scared of violating FERPA laws, and then the school district sharing this information and not violating FERPA law? I'm having a hard time, commissioner, understanding the disconnection here, or how can you separate both?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Well, so what I will say is that we have connected with variety of attorneys. We are following FERPA. I'm not going to comment on the decisions at the local level. We are allowing school districts and school boards and consultation with their board attorneys to make decisions on what they are comfortable sharing with their reading of FERPA.

Commissioner Schwinn:

What I will say is that I talked to the other state chiefs and territory chiefs across the country, this is one area where nationally we are having a conversation about what is and is not appropriate to share. We've put out a dashboard, most other states have not taken that step yet. Given the restrictive nature of FERPA, again, local districts are going to make decisions and they will make the decision about the risk toleration they have as it relates to FERPA and national standards.

Speaker 8:

Thank you, commissioner. Governor, I have a question for you. A few weeks ago, you told us that you were excited to be able to share some information on cases in schools. Now we're hearing that we're only getting the numbers of school [agencies 00:09:40] and counties. So I mean, the transparency is not there, I have to say. And I'm wondering to what extent do you want parents to know that clusters of cases in their kids' schools?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. It's a balance, and you know that, right? The extent that a parent doesn't want information about their child made public, it's really important. It's really important that people in a school district can't figure out which children individually have a case. As you can imagine, there are a lot of ways that patient re-identification can happen, and that's the whole reason FERPA exists. And it's even a higher standard than HIPAA, because information about children to the public is incredibly important to protect, and that is why this is such a balance.

Governor Bill Lee:

A lot of folks would like to know a lot of information, but a lot of folks also don't want the information about their children, or about their individual life and their health, the particulars about their own individual health to be made public, and that's appropriate. We don't want that to happen.

Governor Bill Lee:

So we're working really hard to give as much information as we can, so that the public has an awareness of if their school has a closure, has a case or not, based on whether or not they're in-person or online, and then county information, so they can make those decisions themselves. But without providing individual data on children that the public shouldn't have information or access to.

Speaker 8:

I don't think no one is asking for individual data. I think they're asking more for schools and-

Governor Bill Lee:

Oh, but people ... You know the reason for FERPA is to protect people from figuring out and determining who that person is. And as Dr. Piercey said, there are a lot of ways that that happens, and we have to protect individual privacy, so that parents, families, that other families can't find out information about this family's children. That's something we are very intent on protecting and we'll work to do so, and yet at the same time provide as much information as possible.

Speaker 9:

I hate to beat a dead horse, but shouldn't parents be able to have access to that information so they can make decisions about whether to keep their children in the school, the specific school, or to bring them home for virtual teaching?

Governor Bill Lee:

Parents should have as much access to information as they can get, and yet, while we continue to protect the individual information of individual children. That's what should happen.

Speaker 9:

Back on this wellbeing check thing, I think Commissioner Schwinn said last week, she was basically pulling the plug on it. Is that not correct?

Governor Bill Lee:

I don't think those were her words, but you can make a comment.

Speaker 9:

Well, [crosstalk]-

Governor Bill Lee:

She was making major adjustments to those recommendations.

Speaker 9:

My question on that is, whose idea was it to do this from birth to age 18, if it's for a school program? I think that was one of the big concerns people had, and whose idea was this?

Governor Bill Lee:

We created a task force, as you know, of leaders across the state, including members of the legislature, including leaders in education. We created a task force, who created recommendations and brought forth that recommendation. It was the work of that task force.

Speaker 9:

And where does this go from here?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry?

Speaker 9:

Where does this go next? Is it still alive?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we have scaled it back, pulled it back and doing a reset on it. We have no plans to ... I mean, we have no knowledge yet about where it's going to go from here. I mean, that just happened on Friday, so we're evaluating where to go forward.

Governor Bill Lee:

The other thing is, the kind of work that ensures that vulnerable kids are protected occurs at the local level. We ask partners and parents to be engaged in that process. The state is not doing that work, they were giving suggestions. That work will continue at the local level in the appropriate ways, where parents are engaged in it.

Governor Bill Lee:

So where it goes from here is that we will reevaluate whether or not this state should be giving any kind of guidance at all.

Speaker 9:

And another quick question on the rate for COVID, is that because of decreases in testing? Or the turnaround time. I'm sorry, but the turnaround time, is that because of a decrease in testing? An improvement in the turnaround time.

Dr. Piercey:

Actually, we don't think the improved turnaround time is because there's been less testing. I gave some numbers on Thursday about our averages. We're still averaging north of 20,000 a week, which is about where we've been. I think today was around 23, and maybe yesterday or a day or two ago was even higher than that.

Dr. Piercey:

So we have not seen a substantive decrease. It's trended down just a little bit, but that's primarily because there are less sick people, and we know that through our COVID-like illness syndromic surveillance.

Speaker 9:

Okay, thank you.

Speaker 10:

Hi, governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

[inaudible].

Speaker 10:

So over in Memphis today, postal workers were talking about the need for support, because they are struggling to keep up with the delay. I'm curious, is that a concern for your administration? Are you looking into long delays as we're heading into the November election?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, there's certainly been a lot of talk about postal service resources and making sure that those resources are appropriate. And I think the latest round of that is that federally, the USPS is not making substantive changes to their resources. I trust that the postal service can deliver what's necessary.

Governor Bill Lee:

I think our secretary of state's done a great job. The primary election came off very well. We, we hope that that will be the case for the next election. I don't see a reason, should there not be a major adjustment to the USPS that that shouldn't happen.

Speaker 10:

So no discussion at this time maybe looking at extending the absentee deadline, or for the mail ballots?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think the primary showed us that the process we have in place is good. I think we are encouraged by where we're headed in November with that.

Speaker 10:

Okay, and one quick, final question regarding the supplemental aid for the unemployment. I was just curious how many might be eligible for that, or do we have any numbers? Or how many might not be? I think there's been in other states this has kind of popped up, and so I was just curious if we have those numbers yet.

Speaker 11:

Yes, and so the eligibility is twofold. One, somebody has to attest according to the grant that their employment's been impacted by COVID-19. And the second piece of that is that you have to make a hundred dollars or more, or your weekly benefit has to be that. That should be the vast ... The hundred dollars or more should be the vast majority of the folks who are currently on unemployment.

Speaker 11:

We'll just have to see on the attesting to the COVID-19 piece. That's a piece that's unknown to us, but in terms of the hundred dollars, that will be the vast majority of our claimants.

Speaker 12:

Governor, that's the time we have today, if you'd like to close.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, all. Thank you for joining us. Thank you again, Chancellor and Coach, for being a part of today's press briefing. Be encouraged, we are certainly encouraged with the direction of our numbers, but all that means is that we have to double down, that we have to continue on the path that we have pursued to date, and we will continue to make progress moving forward.

Governor Bill Lee:

I do want to thank every Tennessean for their personal responsibility they've taken in doing the things necessary to mitigate the spread of this virus. We have leaders, and I want to thank Jimmy Hayley, the mayor of Warren County for his work this week. That County instituted a mask requirement, an additional county that is doing what they believe is best for their community and the safety of their people, and we will continue together to work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and move forward into the days ahead, and to have football time in Tennessee.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you for joining us, today. We will be back on Thursday.