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August 20, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for our Thursday briefing. We will talk about a number of issues regarding education and business relief. But first I want to start with an extremely serious topic, one that as a father and grandfather, I am very concerned about. I've asked the TBI director, David Rausch, to join us today to share a report regarding uptick in cyber crimes against children. Many of our kids, especially our younger kids, are spending a lot more time online. And as parents and educators across the state, we are encouraging everyone to be vigilant in making certain that we prevent any harm to our kids, whether it's in the context of school, online, or other digital social activities that they're involved in.

Governor Bill Lee:

The TBS reported that since April, there has been a sharp uptick in reporting that requires investigation by the Internet Crimes Against Children taskforce. Virtual crimes have real consequences against children, and we must do everything we can to protect our kids to the fullest extent of the law. I've directed the Department of Education to develop a plan for a more stringent cyber security strategy for districts utilizing online learning. So I'd like to ask Director Rausch to come up and share more about this report and how parents and teachers can be a part.

David Rausch:

Thank you, governor. I appreciate it. For the better part of this year, we've all found ourselves in uncharted territories. COVID-19 has forced us to create a more robust virtual environment where Tennesseans go to connect, work, and learn. This new environment has affected all of us, but perhaps none so more than children. What they were used to as their school life has been turned upside down. Some are going to school with restrictions and new rules. Others are going to schools only on certain days. While still others aren't going to a classroom at all, but are using a computer as their window to their education.

David Rausch:

With more young people on the internet, it opens a large door for potential bad actors. These are people who are preying upon the most vulnerable and trusting of our residents, our children. Now more than ever, we want to provide a safe atmosphere for children to learn. We want children to feel safe in their classroom, even if their classroom is the kitchen table. But not only are children working more in a virtual environment, so are the sexual predators. At the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, we understand the benefits that technology provides. And we also understand the potential dangers that can go along with it.

David Rausch:

Shortly after I took this job, we created a technology and innovation division. Within this division, we have dedicated teams of TBI agents across multiple specialized units who combine resources and conducting proactive investigations into a range of online safety concerns. Among them, we have the internet crimes against children investigators and cyber crime investigators. The pandemic may have slowed down a lot of aspects of our lives, but let me tell you, it sure hasn't slowed down the investigators in these units. These TBI agents have and continue to be open for business.

David Rausch:

Despite challenging conditions due to the pandemic, they are still pursuing leads, still executing search warrants, and still working to protect our children from internet predators. During the pandemic, children have had more time online and potentially less parental supervision. And at the start of the quarantine, we saw a large and concerning spike in the number of cyber tips that we received. The tips more than doubled from the pre-COVID months. In the month of March alone, 122 cyber tips were sent to us. The numbers the next few months also remain higher and elevated from the pre-COVID numbers before leveling off. So far, this year we've received more than 450 cyber tips.

David Rausch:

When we saw this trend emerging, we adapted our process to give these tips the time and attention that they deserved. We reallocated special agents from other units to work on the uptick of cyber tips in the short term while our technical service agents concentrated on the most technically challenging cases. We continue to keep an eye on these trends and are prepared to react quickly when and where as necessary. In addition to the agents in this specialized unit, we also have a human trafficking unit with special agents and intelligence analysts dedicated to investigating this crime. As traffickers and sexual predators work to take advantage of having more children online, it can only take a few steps to get from a virtual school to escort ads.

David Rausch:

Just as we are all adjusting to this new virtual reality, so too are the predators who can use this opportunity to try to groom victims. Those seeking to exploit our children can use tactics that often don't appear as sinister. It can start out as someone who pays a child special attention online and may attempt to give them things in real life. By recognizing tactics like this, our agents can work to prevent these predators from gaining a grip on a child's life. Our human trafficking unit is working to protect children, and we have the ability to better identify escort ads that are selling minors or those who are under the control of someone else.

David Rausch:

These are not just big city issues. We are seeing efforts to exploit children in both the urban and rural areas all across our state. Oftentimes, the best defense is a good offense, and that falls on us as parents. Knowing what to look for and be wary of can help prevent those who prey on children from gaining access to those we want most to protect. Parental oversight and involvement is imperative in the virtual world we are in. We want to encourage parents to be vigilant. We don't want to instill fear, but we do want to empower parents to know what to look for and what they can do. While these are uncertain times for you, your children are probably also experiencing things unfamiliar to them as well.

David Rausch:

So parents, remind your children that they don't talk to strangers. And that includes online strangers. Set the rules, just as you wouldn't let strangers into your home, or certainly your children's bedroom, you shouldn't let cyber criminals into your home through phones or other screen sources. Make sure to keep your child's internet use in a public part of the house and not in the bedroom or the bathroom. Chat rooms can be dangerous for children. We have had agents pose as teenage girls in chat rooms and within moments of their logging on, they have had adult men contact them and send inappropriate photos of themselves and ask for the girl to send them inappropriate photos.

David Rausch:

Warn your children about people who ask them to take photos of themselves. Our agents have seen children as young as five years old taking photos of themselves and at the direction of someone they communicated with online. It's okay to read your child's chat history. You need to make sure they know who's on the other end. Tell your child you want to be a second set of eyes for them. Keep communication open with your children. Build their trust in this area. Let your child know it's okay to tell you about someone that they don't know who might be contacting them or asking them to do things that they're uncomfortable with.

David Rausch:

Take advantage of parental control apps that are offered by internet providers and monitor your child's online activity. Be a good role model while you're online. If you see something questionable on your child's phone, don't delete it. Take screenshots of it and keep the chat history. Don't communicate with the person at the other end of the conversation and contact law enforcement immediately. If you do see something of concern, what else can you do? Well, here at the TBI, you can reach us via email to report any unusual or suspicious activity you may find on your child's network or chat history. That email address is tipstotbi@tn.gov. That's T-I-P-S to, T-O-T-B-I@tn.gov.

David Rausch:

The human trafficking hotline is available to anyone who has concerns that someone may be a victim of human trafficking, or is potentially being groomed. That number is +1 855-558-6484. We are fortunate to have a great working relationship with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In addition to providing our agents the cyber tips that they need to find and arrest these child predators across Tennessee, the [inaudible] NetSmartz Program offers a variety of resource material to parents, educators, and community members. These tips are age and grade appropriate and can help you and your student learn how to better protect yourself and the child from online predators.

David Rausch:

You can find out more by going to www.netsmartz.com. And that's N-E-T-S-M-A-R-T-Z. While the pandemic has presented some challenges to overcome in many areas, including virtual education, the special agents at the TBI are dedicated to protecting our children from these offenders. Our investigators continue to seek out and arrest those who prey on our children. Our team is available to offer our combined knowledge, experience, and expertise to the department of education, as well as any other state agencies where and when needed. We will work together to do whatever we can do to make sure that our collective resources are available to those who need them. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you for that. Very important report, something that all parents, all caretakers, all grandparents, anyone associated with kids. We want to provide resources for you so you can protect your children and we can help you protect your children. So thank you for that report. And if you have further questions, please reach out to the TBI. Make sure that they know of any concerns that you have.

Governor Bill Lee:

On the education front, Commissioner Schwinn will share more about the department's work to ensure early literacy is on track in our state. After extended time away from the classroom for many of our kids, younger students are learning foundational skills like reading and those skills require more consistency and more hands-on approach. I'm very proud our state has developed a phonics-based approach to assist parents and teachers so that Tennessee students become confident, strong readers despite the disruptions that have come their way as a result of COVID-19. Phonics is tried and true. It's a common sense approach and it works. And the department of education wants to continue to provide those resources to parents, resources that are straightforward and simple and help get strong readers and young kids all across Tennessee in the middle of these times. I want to talk a little bit about school data and reporting COVID cases. We talked a lot about that on Tuesday, but I want to revisit that again and continue to talk about that today.

Governor Bill Lee:

From the beginning, I've said we want to be as transparent as possible. We also have the responsibility to provide privacy and to stay within the confines of federal law, our Unified Command Group in consultation with the Attorney General's office in our state has been very clear regarding our obligations to HIPAA and FERPA. But I think that there is a strong desire to provide as much transparency as possible that provides information to the parents that they need around school reopening. It's the right thing to do, so we're continuing to work with our legal counsel. We have continued to reach out to the federal government, to HIPAA, to the department of education, to determine if there is more that we can do to provide clarity and at the same time protect privacy.

Governor Bill Lee:

So we'll keep you updated on that as we go along. For the time being, we know that all schools are reporting through the department of education and local health departments. They're reporting to teachers and students and those working in schools, any exposure that occurs as a result of COVID-19 that's happening today and will continue to happen, but we'll continue to pursue through the department of health and education if there's changes in the status of reporting regarding school-age children and district operational status. Broadband is a very important conversation in the midst of distance learning and telemedicine and challenges from COVID-19 have really put stresses on our infrastructure particularly as there's more working offline, more working online, away from home, more education online, more access to telemedicine. There are parts of our state where broadband is not readily available.

Governor Bill Lee:

We've worked very hard over the last couple of years to expand that broadband service across our state. We've put $43 million invested so far in broadband expansion to date, but the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group that is working to provide strategies around the CARES funding is also working with our office and today we're announcing $61 million of that CARES funding will be invested in broadband expansions across the state during this year. This means that communities all across Tennessee will have more access to broadband, which means kids will have more access to online learning. Folks will have more access to the ability to work from home. And we can have more access to healthcare through telemedicine for more Tennesseans as a result of this expansion. Building out these critical infrastructures like broadband requires private partnerships, private-public partnerships, and those are happening. We will be talking more about those partnerships that are developing the expansion of this $61 million worth of broadband over the next few months.

Governor Bill Lee:

We've talked a lot about business relief expansion, but I want to continue to talk about it because there are a lot of businesses that have access to this relief that haven't tapped into that access yet. We have announced previously a business relief program. We just recently announced an additional $83 million for an expansion of the types of businesses that can access that relief, venues, event venues and caterers and the like that were negatively affected throughout the pandemic. Those businesses, as a reminder, can pursue that business relief through the department of revenue. Ag and forestry businesses also have access to an additional $50 million that we previously announced. And we say that again because we want those businesses to be reminded of the ability. Ag and forestry can reach that relief through the department of agriculture.

Governor Bill Lee:

We don't want to have any funds left on the table when this is over and we've set aside those funds, so we want those businesses to have it. We want to communicate that as frequently as possible. And again, I want to thank the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for their work. Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and members of the legislature, comptroller's office, all working together to provide this relief, to provide this broadband expansion. And I'm grateful. I'm grateful for their work. Commissioner Schwinn would you please come up and give an education update and then we'll have Dr. Piercey with a health update.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Thank you, governor. To start off, I want to thank TBI for the partnership as we explore what is a very critical issue. In 2020, during times of school building closures, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a 93% increase in the number of reports they received of online enticement and calls made into its cyber tip line. We're seeing similar data for Tennessee specific and certainly as a mom of two young children who are learning online right now, we know that parents need to stay vigilant in this very critical area. As part of the continuous learning plans that our districts submitted and continue to submit, there is a section specific to security policies for any type of device use. If school and district personnel have been logging in from home to applications hosted locally on school district servers, those connections need to be secure so that teachers and students have the security they need and we do not allow folks to breach that.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Many of our schools have now deployed virtual private networks or VPNs to protect student connections and ensure that only authorized users can access those local servers. We continue to partner very closely with districts to provide that concierge service and give them any kind of support that they need to provide these critical protections. However, we are asking parents to stay alert around potentially dangerous or inappropriate content and alert their school as soon as possible so that we can take the necessary precautions. But again, very grateful for the partnership. An update on school reopening. So, as of today, we have 131 districts or 90% of schools across the state that have started. This includes 32 districts who started this week and a special congratulations to Perry County, they had their even grades start today. They have their odd grade start tomorrow, and then all students are back together on Monday, so that slow return to school. But I know that they've done a great job and so just a special shout out to them.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Of our districts, 129 or 88% are currently operating or planning to operate with some sort of hybrid model. That's mostly opening in person with a virtual choice option for families though some are doing hybrid models that allow for specific grades only, or to alternate by days. 18 districts are now fully remote as of today or 12% of our districts. And as of today, nine schools have reported as closed due to one or more COVID cases.

Commissioner Schwinn:

We've opened schools and it's the greatest time of year as I know you've heard me say, but what we're really thinking about right now in prioritizing are those foundational skills curriculum, especially for our youngest learners. We know that many of our districts have prioritized elementary school in terms of the return back, because we know how important it is for students to maintain their literacy development and how hard that is when students are learning in a remote environment. The Tennessee Foundational Skills Supplement is a free and optional yearlong foundational program that is phonics-based and provides 45 minute daily instructional lessons for pre-K through second grades. I think we've talked at length about Tennessee. We've had an early literacy crisis for a number of years, just over one third of our students are proficient in reading in elementary school. And our districts have been working incredibly hard to ensure that students continue to grow and accelerate in their literacy development, even during times of school building closures and in this important return back to school.

Commissioner Schwinn:

In schools this week, I had a great opportunity of being in Cumberland County and in Putnam County and elementary schools in those districts. And what I heard from teachers over and over is that the gaps that they are seeing especially in their youngest learners, is more significant and wider than they've experienced in years past. And that presents a number of challenges for them as they try to meet the needs of all of their learners, which they desperately want to do. And you can see that in their teaching, in their energy, and certainly in the commitment over the summer. To date, many of those teachers have accessed this material, over 9,000 individual users have accessed this free and optional phonics-based curriculum. And that represents approximately one third of the districts in the State of Tennessee who are using this.

Commissioner Schwinn:

I also want to reiterate that this was created in partnership with Tennessee teachers and at $0 or zero state dollars were used to create the program. So, very excited that we were able to come together as with so many resources and supports that we've done in partnership with our districts over the last four months, and especially on this critical area. The last thing I want to say on that is one of the things that we've been especially pleased with is as our Tennessee teachers have been filming lessons and providing these resources, we have a sounds first set of instructional materials. We also have videos specifically for parents and families and resources to use at home. We know that it's incredibly important that families are part of this process, especially in a remote learning environment. And we want to make sure that whether or not the child is in a school building or at home, they still have the opportunity to rapidly accelerate their literacy, achievement and acquisition this year, and are just very grateful for those teachers who have been such an important part of that. Thank you very much.

Governor Bill Lee:

Dr. Piercey.

Dr. Piercey:

Thank you, sir. Good afternoon. I want to start today by clarifying something that's gotten a little chatter lately, and that is a recent update that we made to our isolation and quarantine protocols. Actually, the update was not much of an update, and that's what my comments are about today. So there's been some talk over the last few days about potentially up to 24 days of quarantine for those exposed to household contacts who are infected. I want to remind you, this is exactly the same as it has been the entire time. I went back today and pulled all of our guidance on isolation and quarantine. And it is unchanged since the very first one we put out on March 12th.

Dr. Piercey:

I also want to remind you that this is not at all specific to Tennessee, and it is not originating from the department. This is straight from the CDC. These are best practice recommendations on what to do if you have someone in the household test positive. And so let me explain to you how that works, because I fully acknowledged that there's a little sticker shock associated with that number. And if you look back at our different versions, some have been in words and some have been in numbers, the most recent one's in numbers. And I think that's, what's causing a little confusion. We haven't increased it at all. In fact, from the March 12th version, we have decreased it because we know that the infectious period is actually closer to 10 days than 14 days.

Dr. Piercey:

But where that number comes from is when you start your quarantine, you start that from the date of last exposure to a positive case. And if that positive case is in your household, then the last date of exposure is the last date of illness, which for most people is 10 days. So that's when the 14 days starts. That's how you get the 10 plus 14, but hear me clearly, that doesn't apply to everyone if you're properly able to isolate yourself from that household contact.

Dr. Piercey:

I fully recognize that some people are not... Their homes are not set up to do that. But in instances where you can isolate from that household member, then your 14 days starts the day the last contact took place. For some people, albeit not many, they are able to isolate that household member in a different residence. That's not possible a lot of the times. Sometimes it's possible to isolate that person in one part of the house where you don't share any common spaces.

Dr. Piercey:

So if the contact is not going into the same room, not sharing common spaces like kitchens or bathrooms with the infected case, then they are no longer in ongoing contact. So there are some instances where it's just impossible or impractical to separate oneself from that infected case. And in those instances, their period at home will be longer because their quarantine doesn't start until the infection is resolved. So I just wanted to give a little clarity. Again, not new, straight from the CDC, has been consistent since March 12th.

Dr. Piercey:

I wanted to also give you a little bit of good news to end your week on. Case rates in all of our metro and rural areas are stable to declining statewide. That makes me incredibly happy to say that. That is including in the rural areas. We have seen the largest declines in our large metro areas of Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville, but even in our rural areas, their rates are starting to stabilize. So you're doing the right thing. Please keep it up.

Dr. Piercey:

Also, we're seeing our overall hospitalizations decrease. By my count, it looks like July 29th was our peak hospitalization day or that's where we had our peak numbers. And we are almost 15% lower today than we were on July 29th. And one other bit of good news, we have now reached the 10th consecutive day for positivity rates less than 10%. The seven-day rolling average is now 8.0, which is certainly headed in the right direction. So keep up the good work.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, Dr. Piercey. And I would just say while those numbers are very encouraging and we're certainly cautiously optimistic, we believe those have happened because Tennesseans have been vigilant and they have from the very beginning of this taken personal responsibility, continue to do so, please double down. Now is the time to make certain that we keep those numbers moving in the right direction, and we can do so if everyone engages in the behaviors that we talk about, and primarily it's the simple behaviors of washing your hands, staying home when you're sick, stay socially distanced and wear a mask. So keep that up, and our numbers we hope will continue to move in the right direction. Let's get to Q&A, be happy to answer questions. Chris?

Chris:

Yes, Governor, this question comes from Clarksville Now, one of our news partners, and I'm just going to read it to you. They say there's an issue. And actually this is for Dr. Piercey, if I may. Say there's an issue with active cases in Montgomery and possibly other counties, the math isn't adding up. We've heard this kind of complaint before. What do you say to those folks and what should they do? Because obviously parents and everybody has access to this data. They look at it, they make their interpretations, but obviously with schools up there, they're making decisions on this. What do you say to them and what should they do if they have a complaint about the data or think it's wrong?

Dr. Piercey:

Sure. That's a good question, Chris. Thanks for bringing that up. So I believe the question out of Montgomery County, and quite frankly, some other counties that we've heard from relate to active case count. When we first began this, we considered them inactive or recovered. They rolled off the active list after 21 days. We now know that that's probably closer to 14 days. So we're in the process of adjusting that, which will create a lower active case count because patients actually recovering faster than we originally thought.

Dr. Piercey:

And when I say originally, I mean back in January, February, March, when this first started. So we're in the process of looking at that. And so that very well may be something that we're talking about in the coming days. In the meantime, if there is a data concern, the most appropriate place to go first is the local county health department director. There may be some nuances in that data that he or she can explain. And if not, that certainly something that can roll up to us.

Dr. Piercey:

I will take this opportunity to remind just your viewers and everybody of one particular important point, which is the numbers themselves may not tell the entire story. And you have to proceed really cautiously when you make major decisions based off an active case count, because there perhaps might be a large outbreak in a community that doesn't necessarily affect whatever's being decided about. For example, a large nursing home outbreak or in communities that have prisons or jails, that might be driving up the case count number. That really doesn't affect the other people if you're making decisions about churches or schools or whatever. So just a little caution there, if you're making decisions with numbers, to contact your local health director to help you walk through that.

Chris:

If I may, a question for the governor. On the $300 unemployment benefit that's being considered, I understand that the Department of Labor has made that application to FEMA, but again, can you go over? Because a lot of people called us and said, "Why isn't the state chipping in the extra $100?"

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, well, what we got to do is look at what the anticipated impact that this will have on our state. And what we've decided to do is create what we believe is a sustainable approach going forward. We don't know how deep or how long the unemployment situation will remain. We don't know what the economy will do over the next quarter or even over the next year. So we have to be certain that our unemployment trust fund remains capable of providing unemployment insurance to Tennesseans as it always has. And the federal government recognizes this too, which is why they made the adjustment to allow for states like ours, who provide a state-funded benefit, to use $100 of that benefit as their match for the $300 that's coming. They recognized that states facing uncertain economy before them. And we've got to have a sustainable plan for making sure we have unemployment insurance benefits into the future.

Speaker 1:

Hey, Governor. So parent groups have been contacting us about transparency for releasing those COVID-19 case numbers. I know you responded to that. Can you respond to these parents who are asking for more transparency, and they're kind of irritated about all of this?

Governor Bill Lee:

I would say that we recognize that transparency is really important and parents want to know as much information as they can. We also recognize that parents want their children's information to be private individually. That balance is significant. It's important, it is the balance and it's the struggle, but we've also seen the federal guidelines and the federal regulations change with regard to nursing homes and the information that we were allowed to provide to stay within the law. That's why we've reached out to FERPA officials. That's why we've reached out to the Department of Education to see if there's more that can be done. So I would say to them that we're looking to see if there's more we can do.

Speaker 1:

And then I do have a question for Commissioner Piercey from News4's Jeremy Finley. So he says, "We asked you earlier this week about a massage therapist whose license was revoked after 15 women accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. Even though his license was revoked earlier this month, a woman did not know about it and got a message from him this week, and then filed a police report saying she was sexually violated during that massage. So today we were able to book an appointment, and we met him at his house for a massage. So what do you think about this man operating without a license? And is there anything you think that the state should do?"

Dr. Piercey:

Obviously, if any person purporting to be a medical professional is practicing without a license that would be a criminal act and law enforcement should be notified and involved. Law enforcement is already very familiar with the individual in question, and so that should be directed at them.

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Thank you, Governor. Thanks so much for talking to us today. Wanted to ask you, going back to these transparency issue...

Governor Bill Lee:

Going back to what?

Speaker 2:

The transparency aspect of this, of the numbers in schools. Do you want to release this information? Is this something that you really would like to tell

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, that's why we're pursuing it. In our unified command group, I've said, we need to think about this as parents and what we would like to have as parents. I'm a grandparent of a kid in public schools, of kids in public schools, so we look at that. Also look at that from the privacy perspective as well, recognizing that as a parent, we are very concerned about our own children's privacy, particularly around health and the impacts of sharing too much information and re-identification and all of the issues associated with that.

Governor Bill Lee:

So we want to be as transparent as possible. There's no reason not to be transparent other than to protect privacy. And that's the balance that we're trying to find. And because there are federal guidelines, there's federal funding attached with staying within those guidelines. We want to be very clear that we don't threaten federal funding by going beyond what's allowable. So that's why we're working to try and determine what the next steps are.

Speaker 2:

Would you also say there's a little bit of concern that if you go outside of those boundaries, you could get sued, the state could get sued.

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, certainly violating federal law is a problem for a state. We don't want to do that. That's why we have made our decisions in consultation with the Attorney General's office. They've been very much of a partner in giving us guidance and direction on where to go with regard to federal law.

Speaker 2:

I have a question for Commissioner Piercey. Commissioner, it's good seeing you. I have a question. So we know that other states are releasing this information, and it's coming from the Department of Health, not from the Department of Education. In North Carolina, for example, they're releasing school data twice a week once they have identified a cluster and they define that by five cases or more. In Kentucky, the Governor has said he will do the same. In South Carolina, the Governor wants to the Department of Health to do the exact same thing. So there's already states doing it. Why can't we do it? I mean, they seem that they are not violating HIPAA law by doing this.

Dr. Piercey:

Sure. That's a perfectly legitimate question and one that we talked a little bit about on Tuesday, about different levels of being a HIPAA covered entity. Now I'll caveat this by saying, I can talk about HIPAA and the Department of Health, FERPA is a little bit different, but from my understanding may even be more stringent than HIPAA. Not every state health department is covered by HIPAA and some of them are HIPAA hybrids, which have a lower standard. So that plays a part of it. But I want to reassure you that I have talked to most everybody in those states, that are my counterparts in those States that you mentioned, our attorneys have talked to the attorneys in those States to see what allowances they're doing. And as the Governor mentioned, this is not coming from a place of not wanting to do that. It's just wanting to do it compliantly, given our level of responsibility to HIPAA and other privacy standards that other states may or may not have.

Speaker 2:

So as of today, the position of this state is to not share this information, breaking it down by schools. As of today, that's the position of the state school.

Dr. Piercey:

So our position is that the Attorney General's office and several other of our attorneys have advised us that we need to look very closely at these privacy guidelines. And so, as the Governor mentioned, we're talking to both federal agencies, as well as the US Department of Education about which allowances we can use in order to be able to get to do that. There are some pretty big risk in doing that, not only individually, but also from a funding standpoint, so we want to make sure that we're crystal clear on what is and is not allowed for our state before we do that.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

Jonathan:

Hey Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Hey Jonathan.

Jonathan:

I want to check back in with you. It's been a little while since we've talked about your meetings with various stakeholders on racial justice, how many meetings have you had? Do you expect any legislation to come out of that? And where does that stand at this point?

Governor Bill Lee:

On the issue of racial justice with respect to law enforcement? Well, let me just say, as you recall and remember, we had a press conference actually and talked about a task force that we put in place with law enforcement across the state to develop recommendations regarding reforms necessary for law enforcement agencies and that they'd be consistent across the state. I think that was a 60 day, there was an expectation for a 60 day time period in which they would give us a report. I think that's on track to have that report at the end of that 60 days. But I've also met with, on the issue of just racial relations and racial reconciliation and in conversation around equity and justice, I've had three meetings in different parts of the state so far with African American leaders in particular.

Governor Bill Lee:

And we'll continue to do that as a means of listening and trying to develop a real broader understanding of what our state can do in areas like law enforcement and other areas as well. I've also spent some time talking and meeting with minority business owners to understand the challenges unique to them and the barriers that present themselves to minority businesses, minority entrepreneurs, minority business owners. So it's an ongoing effort.

Jonathan:

I think it's been easier and quicker to put something together to reform the criminal penalties on protests than to put something together sort of more tilted toward the racial injustice that's been talked about and going on.

Governor Bill Lee:

Why has it been easier to put together reforms on protests?

Jonathan:

Criminal penalties for protests, which recently passed versus passing something more tilted towards the racial justice.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah well, I think what we saw was a courthouse on fire and businesses being broken into and vehicles being damaged and we saw lawlessness that needed to be addressed immediately and that was done so. But what we see in criminal justice reform, for example, is a long season of need that will take a long view for reformation. And it's a very complex and large subject that's been in the process. The criminal justice system has been ever changing, so that's an ongoing process that will never stop, and at least not as far as I'm involved in it. And there's a long view to that.

Speaker 3:

Good afternoon, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yes, sir.

Speaker 3:

Since your last news briefing, I've heard from lots of teachers who say schools are opened, but I have not received the supplies that the Governor promised. And yet you personally delivered supplies to Obion County High School. You and Commissioner Schwinn that day attended a get out the vote event for Senator John Stevens.

Governor Bill Lee:

Right.

Speaker 3:

Is it a good idea to mix COVID response with partisan politics?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I go to events all across this state. Some around education, some workforce development, some supporting candidates that I believe will strengthen their representation for that district. I think it's appropriate for a Governor to engage in all kinds of activities across the state and that's what I do every day.

Speaker 3:

Was it appropriate for your Commissioner of Education to attend a partisan event?

Governor Bill Lee:

Commissioner of Education was traveling with me to do an educational event and to be efficient and travel and not have two different travel modes. So she ended up at that event with me as well. I thought it was entirely appropriate.

Speaker 3:

I wanted to get a clarification on a couple of issues of your Beacon Center interview. In discussing the need for schools to reopen, you invoked a war analogy.

Governor Bill Lee:

Invoked what?

Speaker 3:

Twice a war analogy. You said, "We've got to learn how to go ahead and storm the beach. We can't just sit back until all of us die." Continuing the war analogy, should we expect that there will be casualties?

Governor Bill Lee:

Oh, I think that we know that, this idea that there is a safe way in an unsafe way is a false choice, in my view. Whether it's going to schools, whether it's opening up a business, whether it's continuing forward in our lives, we have COVID-19 as a part of our society. And so we've got to make the right decisions in how to move forward. We can't keep our economy shut down forever. We can't keep schools shut down forever. Can't keep businesses closed down forever. So we move forward knowing that there are risks for staying where we are, and there are risks moving forward. We've got to move forward in the way that we think mitigates the greatest level of risk.

Governor Bill Lee:

And that's the strategy that we've taken to move forward. For example, there will be cases of COVID in school as we move forward and kids going into school. But there are cases of COVID in children who have not been in school all summer long. We move forward in the safest way possible to continue on the things that we need to continue in our state.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. A teacher representative asked how many casualties of teachers you think is appropriate.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I think the most important thing is to prevent any casualties. I think the most important thing is to provide the safest environment for children, recognizing that children are not entirely safe out of the classroom as well. We talked about dangerous associated with children online today. We've talked about child abuse that's more prevalent when children don't have a reporting mechanism in schools, that's danger for children. We know that kids that don't have access to nutrition or mental health services, children with disabilities, there's danger associated with that. So it's a false choice to believe that there is a safe way and an unsafe way. There is a way to move forward that is the best way for kids and that's the efforts that we're making, or for teachers, that's the efforts that we're making.

Speaker 3:

And then on the issue about the meeting own racial reconciliation issues. In that interview, you talked about the need to engage in conversation, to understand the other side. Yet you refuse to meet with protest leaders who are outside the capital. The black caucus asked for an emergency meeting with you before the special session, and you never responded. Are there terms attached to which African American leaders you'll meet with?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I have had very productive meetings with African American leaders across the state will continue to do so. As you know, I have requests from a lot of folks to meet on a lot of reasons. And we meet with those groups that are willing to work together to move forward and that's what it's been like.

Speaker 3:

So why not meet with the protestors, sir?

Governor Bill Lee:

Because we have a lot of requests for a lot of meetings to meet with folks and that the meetings that we've chosen to do are the ones that we believe are going to be the most productive, moving forward to actually create solutions for the challenges that we have.

Speaker 3:

And then...

Governor Bill Lee:

We've had enough questions, let's move to the next. Everyone needs to get a chance.

Speaker 3:

Will you be...

Governor Bill Lee:

Yes. Would you, do you have a question?

Speaker 4:

Governor, will y'all be releasing the schools that are closed?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry.

Speaker 4:

Will y'all be releasing the names of the nine schools that are closed?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think the information on schools that are closed and schools that are opening is already available on the dashboard through the Department of Education. So that information is already available. Sam?

Sam:

Yes. Governor, the legislature started having meetings today on the... And discussing state of emergency powers, and how those played out, and what they think they should do for maybe the next governor. One of the things that Alberto Gonzalez said, the former attorney general, is that, "The legislature should expect transparency and a full report including finances and the reasons for your actions that you've taken." Are you prepared to make that full report to the legislature? And if so, when is that going to come out?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, the legislature's actually a part of the process of the spending. So all of the spending that we're doing regarding COVID is a part of the strategy of the financial stimulus accountability group, which includes both speakers, the comptroller, two Democrats and two Republicans from the legislature. They're a part of this, of the spending strategy and those meetings are actually public as well as the plan for spending. So yes, the report actually is public now. The way that the entirety of the spending that's been done.

Sam:

Well, what about the reasons, not just for financial decisions, but the reasons for your other decisions on safer at home and those types of executive orders, are you going to be coming up with a full report on that or is that pretty much summed up in your executive?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I think the executive orders that are not attached to financial costs are... Those are just what they are. Those are decisions that are made and explained in each executive order. And by the way, our office has been working with that ad hoc committee to provide information so they can understand exactly every step that was taken. We want... That's a mutually... We're working mutually together to provide them information so they can make the decisions that they need to make going forward.

Sam:

And one more thing, one of the legislators mentioned to me today that they're worried about communications coming from your office on executive orders, because they might look up and all of a sudden there's an executive order and they're caught off guard. They don't know how to respond to constituents. What's your response to that?

Governor Bill Lee:

He and I have actually talked at length about that multiple times over the period. So, and as I've said to him, we want to be as... We want to communicate as much as possible. So 132 legislators, making sure they all know when information is coming out is important. It's difficult. So, we've actually been talking about that for a couple months. How can we better streamline the information flow for decisions that have to be made in a very short period of time or multiple decisions that have to be made in the same day? It's a challenge, but we're working and I'm working with the, I suspect, the same lawmaker you've been talking to.

Speaker 5:

Hey, Governor. You started the briefing today with what could be a pretty alarming issue for some about online predators and children online. I don't know if this question is best for you, but is there evidence of school being online right now being a direct result of, well this uptick being a direct result of school being online?

Governor Bill Lee:

I could, I would... Is Director Rash here? Yep. You want to talk about the data? I can't speak to the report itself.

Director Rash:

Thank you. I'm sorry. I think I heard the question. Is there data to...

Speaker 5:

Does the data support or show that the uptick in tips is a direct result of schools being online?

Director Rash:

Yeah, so I'm not sure that we have it that specific. I know that there is an uptick in the reporting. And now if that's a result of online or if that's a result of just in general online activity, not directly related to schools, I don't have it broken down at that.

Speaker 5:

Okay.

Director Rash:

I can check back with our office.

Speaker 5:

With the uptick in reporting, it's sort of like child abuse cases we've seen a downtick because kids are not in schools. So could it be that more people in general are just online, so that's why they're noticing these things and that's why we're seeing this uptick in reporting?

Director Rash:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think that that's certainly something that we look at is when you have a larger volume of users, you're going to have a larger volume of information. And so absolutely.

Speaker 5:

And you said that there's been 450, more than 450 tips. Can you tell us how many have been valid or how many arrests have been made?

Director Rash:

Yeah, so I don't have that off the top of my head, but I'll check with the office and we can get you some information on that. So clearly we have to look into each and every tip that comes in. Not all result in an arrest and some are still obviously active investigations, but well I can get that information.

Speaker 5:

Thank you.

Director Rash:

You're welcome.

Speaker 6:

My question is actually also for Director Rash.

Governor Bill Lee:

Director.

Speaker 7:

Hold on a second.

Speaker 6:

A couple of more questions on the cyber security tips. So if there has been 450 tips so far this year, can you give us an idea of how many is kind of usual or how many the TBI usually receives?

Director Rash:

Yeah, so it is quite an increase as Commissioner Schwinn mentioned. You know, nationally we're seeing about a 93% increase in cyber tips, on the national scale. Tennessee is no different. It is a large increase to what we normally see annually. So it's... The exact percentage I don't have off the top of my head, but it's tracking with the national numbers.

Speaker 6:

And perhaps you or Commissioner Schwinn could speak to the timeline for developing the response plan for cybersecurity.

Director Rash:

Developing the response plan-

Speaker 6:

Do you have a deadline for when that will be prepared?

Director Rash:

Yeah. That's probably Commissioner Schwinn.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Sure. So as we've been in the first three weeks of school, I just want to be clear, many of the students that we're talking about have not traditionally spent a lot of minutes on computers. Like my own daughter spends very limited time, and now she's on the computer four or five hours a day. And so we do expect that that additional minutes are going to see an uptick. We have had a number of reports. We have been deferring those over to TBI in multiple districts. For the sake of privacy definitely do not want to share that information about individual students.

Commissioner Schwinn:

In terms of the plan and where we are, we have our operations team, which includes both our IT team as well as our district operations team. The IT team is working with district IT teams when there is an issue. We also have our district operations team that is working on any kind of security. So both of those will triage and then partner with TBI as we are developing that for the school systems. We have superintendent groups that meet regularly. This is one of those active conversations. And from those superintendent groups we'll start to develop a needs assessment and then partner again closely to develop a more robust plan, but we'll be providing more information in the coming week or so.

Speaker 6:

Thank you.

Speaker 8:

Hi Governor, thanks so much. I have a couple of questions. The first one is about teachers who have been exposed to COVID-19, but are still expected to be in class if they're not showing symptoms. How is that not a health risk or concern when it comes to getting students sick?

Governor Bill Lee:

So you're talking about, and actually I think Dr. Piercey may want to elaborate on this, but you're talking about districts that designate teachers as critical infrastructure workers. And there's a stricter guideline for protocols around those particular workers. The critical infrastructure workers have been, they're designated by or they're outlined and defined by the federal government. And there is guidance around how those workers should be responded to. And then in the midst of COVID, not only COVID, but there's a broad understanding of that prior even to COVID-19. So the protocols for critical infrastructure workers are different than others, and that determines the response to exposure of COVID. You want to respond to that or add to it?

Dr. Piercey:

Sure. From a health perspective, it's absolutely a riskier proposition. The Department of Health officially recommends the most conservative and traditional route. We also recognize that there are some districts that have specific situations that won't allow them to, particularly from a staffing standpoint, to meet those traditional criteria. So in those cases, as we mentioned on Tuesday, we neither promote or reject that. It's there if you want it, if a local school board wants to do that, but we have provided additional guidance and enhance safety and wellbeing measures for those districts who do choose to do that, understanding that each situation is unique.

Speaker 8:

So on the federal level, because they are critical infrastructure kind of employees, I mean... Is your stance that that should be the case, that teachers should be those kind of employees because it is kind of a health concern to students?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, individual school districts make that decision, whether they would choose to designate their teachers. At the state level we haven't done that, but individual districts have the option to do that.

Speaker 8:

Okay. And my second question is about testing sort of in general. We've been hearing from workers that they won't get tested because they may face pushback from an employer. Is there anything that you're working on to protect workers or anything you'd say to employers in regards to testing?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I certainly hope that employers do not give pushback to their employees for getting a COVID test. We all know how important testing is as a mitigation, or really as an information source for the spread of COVID that allows for us to implement mitigation techniques. It's very important that people get tested. It's very important that employers, there are no pushback for employees who choose to get tested for whatever reason. Testing is a very important part of that. And I would encourage all employees, all employers, to understand how important it is that people have access to testing, particularly those who have symptoms or have any reason to believe that they've been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Speaker 8:

Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you.

Speaker 9:

Governor that's the time we have today.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you all. There's a lot of information and I appreciate the opportunity you give us to spread it, remind Tennesseans. As I said before, we are encouraged and cautiously optimistic, but we need to double down. We need to continue to do things that we have been doing to mitigate the spread of this virus. And we will get through this together. Thank you very much. We'll see you again next week.