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August 25, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for our Tuesday briefing. Let me start off by just saying we've all seen in the last couple of weeks, positivity rates have gone down and case count numbers have gone down and that's very encouraging and we remain very cautiously optimistic. I'm very hopeful for where our state is headed. All the more reason to remain vigilant. Tennesseans, what you have been doing appears to be working, and we need you to continue to stay vigilant. Do what you've been doing. Wear your mask, wash your hands, stay apart. Do the things that individually will contribute to mitigating the spread of this virus as we move forward. I also want to share some encouraging news around our economy, specifically Department of Tourism. I've asked Commissioner Ezell to step up in a second.

Governor Bill Lee:

Last year, we had record numbers of visitors to our state, both vacationers and those who came here to work, to do business. And in spite of COVID-19, we continue to have very impressive tourism numbers in our state. And that should be an encouragement to all of us. We oftentimes take for granted the beauty of our state's Smokies or the uniqueness of the music on Beale Street. But people who come to visit here for the first time, they get hooked on the things that are really great in our state and they come back. And those tourists are very important to the bottom line in our state. Tens of millions of tourism dollars come into our state. Almost 200,000 people are employed in the tourism industry in our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

So we are encouraged when that sector of our economy is doing well. Commissioner Ezell, why don't you come up and make a few comments before I continue?

Mark Ezell:

Thank you, Governor Lee. I've got three updates. First, I'm honored to share the recently released statewide numbers by US Travel highlighting the significant economic impact of tourism in Tennessee in 2019. Last year, tourism in Tennessee outpaced the nation in all areas, including payroll, employment, tax revenue, and travel expenditures. And in 2019, we saw 126 million domestic person stays up almost 6% from 119 the previous year. And those visitors generated a record high $23 billion in domestic and international travel spending, making it a decade of growth in Tennessee tourism. While international travel spending in the United States declined overall, international travel and spending in Tennessee increased by 4.8%.

Mark Ezell:

To put all this in context, travel spending generated $1.92 billion in state and local tax revenues last year. We realize those numbers are a lot to digest. What does this mean for taxpayers? It means as the governor said, travel is economic development. In 2019 alone, travel generated over $75 million in new state and local tax revenue dollars to fund critical services for Tennesseans and half of that went to support public education. So without tourism, each household in the state would have to pay almost $750 in additional taxes each year. And last year, the tourism and hospitality industry produced more jobs than any industry in Tennessee.

Mark Ezell:

This past year, we celebrated milestones for Tennessee, the NFL Draft in Nashville, two new Tennessee locations on the US Civil Rights Trail in Memphis and in Gatlinburg, the opening of the SkyBridge. In addition, Tennessee tourism was on track the first three months of 2020 before COVID-19 hit. And now the US Travel Association predicts the travel industry in Tennessee could see a 30 to 45% decline this year. I've seen colleagues and friends lose their jobs, businesses and attractions closed and hotels sit empty. But now with our businesses taking the Tennessee Pledge, our restaurants and attractions are ready to safely welcome travelers.

Mark Ezell:

And I want to continue to encourage travelers to safely explore, support local businesses, create those family memories on road trips and discover the outdoor scenic beauty where social distancing is easy. Our industry is taking the right steps as we provide safe environments for our travelers. Secondly, I'm pleased to give you a quick update on our Tennessee Strong Mask Movement. I think the last time I was here, we went over 200,000 masks. Well, today we've partnered with over 80 businesses to get more masks in the hands of more Tennesseans. We want to say thank you to the contributions from organizations like Cigna, United Healthcare, Mayor Harris and Shelby County, CVS Aetna, and Wilson County Bank and Trust.

Mark Ezell:

As well as our Tennessee, you need those masks distributed to the Hispanic communities across the state. So governor, we're proud to announce today that the Tennessee Strong Mask Movement hit a milestone of over one million branded masks in commitments with a projected value of more than 10 million masks that have been donated or sold at costs by our great partners. So for more information, or to join our movement, please visit tennesseepledge.com.

Mark Ezell:

And finally, I just want to say thank you to Governor Lee, to the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for allocating $25 million in CARES Act funding to bolster the severely devastated tourism industry. The Tennessee tourism CARES Marketing Program includes 15 million in grants for destination marketing organizations in all 95 counties. With partnerships in our welcome centers, Tennessee state parks, Tennessee wildlife resource agency, we're going to work with them to restore jobs and revenue with programs that promote safe travel with messages of social distancing, face coverings, and sanitation. I'm proud to serve Tennessee. The dedicated people who work in tourism are a huge reason why tourism continues to survive and in some places thrive.

Mark Ezell:

I'm grateful for their passion and dedication to following the guidelines of the Tennessee Pledge as they welcome visitors safely. And as our friend, Dolly, always says, brighter days are ahead. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, [inaudible]. Thank you, commissioner. We'll also hear from, at the end of my comments, we'll hear from Department of Labor, education, and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Let's start with unemployment and Department of Labor. Over the weekend, FEMA approved our request for the lost wages assistance grant, which means that we will continue providing additional unemployment benefits for those Tennesseans who have lost their job in the midst of this pandemic. I want to thank the Trump administration for quickly approving our request for that. That will make sure that we, as soon as that federal money becomes available, we can get that benefit to Tennesseans.

Governor Bill Lee:

And while it's important that we provide that continued benefit to those who find themselves in an extended period of hardship, we also have to look for a longterm repair to our state's economy, get Tennesseans back to the stability of good paying jobs. At the height of pandemic, the department temporarily suspended the work search requirement associated with unemployment benefits. But as the process of economic recovery continues and employers desperately need employees, the department will begin the process of reinstating work search requirements. Commissioner Tennesseean will be here in a minute to share details of that new unemployment program from the federal government and what we're doing to connect Tennesseans from temporary assistance to meaningful employment.

Governor Bill Lee:

On the education front, we continue to open schools all across the state. I want to commend local leaders, teachers who have a hard job anyway, but it's particularly hard in this environment, superintendents, administrators, all those that are working to provide parents choices for in-person learning and virtual learning. In-person learning remains a priority and I want to commend a couple of districts in particular because of the complexity and the size of their districts. Hamilton County and Knox County, those leaders like leaders in districts all across our state have worked really hard to provide parents the option of in-person or virtual learning. And I'm grateful for the work that folks are doing all across our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

We know that kids are learning differently, but we also know that education, the goal of education remains to provide critical thinking skills and additional skills that will ultimately lead to a career. So I've asked the Department of Education to ensure that our efforts around career and technical education remain a priority. We have instituted new work-based learning opportunities for kids, and Commissioner Schwinn will talk a little bit more about that. I've also asked the department to provide additional resources to parents who find themselves in an enhanced teaching role as it were. The new environment they're in means that sometimes they are teaching their kids more than they would have.

Governor Bill Lee:

And that can be a daunting task, especially if your kid's in secondary school with a higher level math class that you haven't had in a long time. So we have developed a resource library that we think is one of the best in the country to provide those resources for teachers and for parents and Commissioner Schwinn will share a little bit more about that as well in a moment. I've asked Brad Turner, our commissioner of Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to step up as well. We serve about 25,000 families in Tennessee who have members of their family with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Governor Bill Lee:

And while COVID has, it's been particularly harsh on the elderly and created real challenges for school kids, and disrupted many of our lives in many ways, it has been uniquely challenging for those with disabilities. So Commissioner Turner, would you come up and share just a little bit about what we're doing to serve families with disabilities in the midst of COVID.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. Certainly want to point out that DIDD has partnered with our friends at the Department of Health, and I appreciate Commissioner Piercey and her team's engagement as it's related to the provider community, and the tests that we are providing for monthly tests. We're utilizing the Everlywell, and P23's self-testing kits to conduct these tests for any staff who provide direct support services to people with disabilities and Medicaid-funded programs.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

I also want to send a special shout out to the DSPs, the direct support professionals. The individuals that are engaged every day at a very high level, working with our population to provide the right kind of support structure and the necessary natural support, so those individuals could live out the lives that they've envisioned for themselves every day. They are the reason that we're successful as a department, and they are promoting the opportunity that we look for all across the state of Tennessee for persons supported.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

For staff who work in intermediate care facilities for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we've adopted a weekly testing in the state ICF facilities, and we're recommending weekly testing in the private ICF facilities. DIDD also requires reporting of all positive cases for both persons receiving services and staff, so the appropriate contact tracing can be done, as staff oftentimes works at more than one provider agency. We also have a dashboard that's available on our website that lists the information for the provider networks and the individuals that have tested positive. We want to make sure that we're transparent. We share that information with persons supported, and with their loved ones and caregivers. That information is available on a dashboard on the DIDD website.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

In addition to that, DIDD has also worked with TEMA to collect, store, and distribute PPE to provider agencies, so we can provide and protect support for staff and persons to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Continuity of services has also been incredibly important this period of time for not only individuals inside our DIDD services, but also young children inside the TEIS network from birth to three years-old. TEIS services, children from zero to three, where services improve their developmental opportunities and maximize outcomes.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

These services occur at a critical time in a young person's growth, and we want to make sure that we continue to do that. We're enabling telehealth to be available for these families to continue to develop services for children zero to three inside the TEIS program. And I want to thank our TEIS staff all across the state for stepping up and being willing to provide these services at a very critical time for these children.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

DIDD has also increased the availability of in-home services to allow for social distancing while also providing guidance for community re-engagement in individuals inside our support network who want to return to their community, but most importantly, want to return to jobs that they might've had before the pandemic struck. I want to encourage businesses while we have the opportunity here, as we're continuing to rebuild the economy and things are starting to change inside Tennessee, we have a full network of individuals that have disabilities all across the state of Tennessee that are looking for gainful employment.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

I share the story all the time that there is dignity in a paycheck, and we have a number of Tennesseeans all across the state who are ready, willing, and trained to be able to go to work. I want to encourage CEOs, individuals, and chamber of commerces all across the state that if you're looking for individuals that are ready to work now, the individuals inside DIDD are ready to go to work.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

Finally, I'd like to talk about DIDD has also increased the use of enabling technology to provide support, and minimize staff contact with persons supported during the pandemic. We believe that independence is critical to a person's success, so we have partnered with a number of vendors that have allowed us to deliver technical and technology services to persons that might want to live alone in their own community, and for the very first time be able to make their own decisions.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

I think it's important to note here as well we've shared these in previous conversations that Tennessee is a state that does not have institutions anymore. That is critical to recognize the work that we've done all across the state by not having individuals with disabilities inside institutions right now, because that is a tinderbox for COVID-19. There are other states that have not been as fortunate. But because we had the foresight several years ago to do that, we've been able to prevent a significant spread of COVID-19, and protect individuals and persons supported at a very high level by not having them in an institution.

Commissioner Brad Turner:

I'm very proud of the direction that Tennessee is going. I'm very proud of this administration, the direction that Governor Lee has shared with us to make sure that we're providing services for every single Tennesseean regardless of ability. And an example of that is the sign language interpreter that we have right here. Tennessee is going above and beyond where a lot of other states are to recognize that it's important to communicate with people with disabilities, and keep their interests at the forefront of what we're doing. I'm proud of our department for what we're doing. I'm proud of Governor Lee and this administration for recognizing the importance that our population has to the future of Tennessee. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, Commissioner. And really appreciate your passionate work on behalf of the people that you serve. Commissioner Schwinn, why don't you step up and give us a report on return to school, how it's going?

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Thank you, Governor. Quick update on where we are with school reopening. As of today, 138 districts, or 95% across the state, have started school. That includes seven who started this week, six districts will open next week, and then the final two will open just after Labor Day. 17 districts, or 12%, are now fully remote. Since our update last week, one district has shifted from being fully remote to a hybrid model for elementary school students attend every day, middle and high school students attend on staggered schedules. The remaining 129 districts, or 88%, are currently open in person or in hybrid. And as of today, nine schools are closed statewide due to COVID cases.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Transitioning into cybersecurity. Last week, Governor Lee encouraged Tennesseeans to be vigilant in preventing cyber crimes against children, especially as more of our children are operating and spending time online. Most districts have submitted and will continue to submit through the end of the month cybersecurity strategies as part of their continuous learning plans. And the majority of Tennessee districts are now using virtual private networks, or VPNs, for students and staff to log on to for additional security measures.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

In partnership with the Governor's office and with TBI, the department will provide guidance and potential solutions to help districts develop more stringent protections, and for additional professional development for educators and district staff. These resources will begin to be distributed in real time. And by early September, we will launch a working group with districts to help identify more needs, as all districts will be open at that time.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Turning to academics, we've recently talked about some of the resources the department has produced and made available, but I do want to spend some time talking about CTE and some of the work that has been happening across the state in this space. Earlier in the summer, we announced $110 million in federal funds through the Perkins V Grant, and an additional $3 million in the Perkins Reserve Grant allocated to 44 school districts across the state.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

A couple of highlights. Even in these challenging times, we are seeing that districts are being innovative and pushing the envelope on what is possible for students. Tennessee High School in Bristol received funding for their new CTE program of study, and that includes a welding industry certification, and a private public partnership with TCAT Elizabethton and Sturdy-Lite. That allows for work-based learning and project-based learning in real time.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

In another part of the state, we have high school students in Overton, Clay, Jackson, and Pickett counties, and they have a new STEM and unmanned aerial systems distance learning lab. That allows for those students to earn their remote pilot certification with a strong focus in the agriculture industry. These are innovative programs. And like I said, when the Perkins allocation was first given to the state of Tennessee, we did not expect to be in the situation that we're in now. It's incredibly inspiring to see these districts continue to push and ensure that every single child has access to the pathway of their choice, and that they have the same opportunities they would have had even though we are currently in a pandemic.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

This year, though, we are also seeing a concerning drop. TBR has estimated 15 to 20% drop in enrollment in post-secondary education at Tennessee's two-year and technical colleges. However, our post-secondary transition task force is working diligently and proactively to determine the steps that are necessary to combat this concern, and we are already seeing significant improvement in closing that gap from what we were seeing in July where we had about 50% of traditional enrollment. We've now increased that to be about 75%. We are making incredible strides in this really critical area.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

And then finally, we know students are learning from all different seats across the state. And we want to make sure, like I said, that every child still has access to the same pathways and opportunities that they would have had otherwise. The department has developed a video library just like we have for some of our other subject areas for CTE. And that includes automotive maintenance and light repair, veterinary and animal science, nursing services, business management, and engineering. Those students can continue to receive the coursework that they otherwise would have had.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

We're also seeing progress in big goals that we've had for the last year and a half. In work-based learning, it continues to be a priority. 562 educators earn their work-based learning certificate through a redesigned virtual experience so that we can continue to push that work forward. That makes 1700 work-based learning coordinators across the state. For statewide dual certification, we did the same thing, and almost 800 teachers completed statewide dual credit virtual training this summer. Again, wanting to make sure that students still have access to the same educators and resources they otherwise would have.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

On a personal note, I do want to say thank you. Districts and teachers have been working very hard in partnership with the department, and the pretty incredible team that we have at the department, who are trying to find innovative different solutions. And we are also providing those open source resources to other states as they continue to problem solve. Tennessee has continued to lead in this space as we have for over a dozen years.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

As it relates to Best for All Central, we're really excited to see those videos get a ton of use. We have over 100,000 independent users of that site. Sixth grade math seems to be the big videos that we're seeing across the state. Over 5,000 independent users are looking at sixth grade math. We also have over 200 videos that are being added on a weekly basis. Those are videos that are new coming from districts. They are also videos that we were filming at the department to ensure that children are able to have access to that first learning if they are in a remote setting, and also so students who are in person can have access to some of the differentiated instruction, or catch up remediation learning that they still have.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

We've also developed a series of family resources. And we're incredibly excited to continue to support families, especially in early literacy. As we look at some of the learning loss that has happened, we want to make sure that our students continue to accelerate in that critical area with phonics first instruction. That will continue to be a priority out of this department, and we will build resources to help families make those critical connections.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

And then finally you heard from Commissioner Turner. Some super excited news and updates in that space. I also wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the work we're doing for our most vulnerable students. In addition to the tool kits, the guidance, and the resources, and technical supports that the department has put out in partnership with a number of partners across the state, we've also made $8 million available in grants. And that's specifically to help children with disabilities and their educators across the state.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

There's been $1 million to help teachers earn a special education additional endorsement. That's one of our high need areas across the state. $1 million in IDEA innovation grants for this school year, $5 million to support compensatory education and additional services for students with disabilities, and $1 million in IDEA technology grants ... again, to make sure that those students with disabilities have access to additional assistive technology, so they can have the same opportunities as any other student.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

I just want to say that this is the beginning of the year. We've got a few more districts to go to open up, but the work does not slow down. School reopening is one part, but it is a kickoff to an entire year of a child's education. We're going to have to work every single day incredibly hard to make sure that each instructional day for every single one of our students is a meaningful instructional day. That does not mean that one school reopening is done that we are done. It means that we will continue to push. Our districts will need to continue to work very hard as they have been, and as has the department. Thank you very much.

Governor Bill Lee:

Commissioner.

Commissioner:

Thank you Governor. As the Governor mentioned, we were approved for the loss wages assistance, a wage assistance grant over the weekend. We did receive funding yesterday afternoon for that grant from FEMA. It's 320, excuse me, 336 million approximately. And what that grant will cover is the first three weeks of August for the additional benefit. We anticipate implementing and processing those payments here within the next few days. So this week, or early next we'll start processing those benefits to be paid. I do want to make sure that it's understood that it's just those three weeks and then we'll wait and see if we do get another allotment. As more states have come on, particularly some of the largest states, we do anticipate this not again lasting very long. We anticipate it lasting five or six weeks, maybe more but something in that area. And as we get more clarity on that, we will update you on that as well.

Commissioner:

The second update is on the work search requirements. In a nutshell, that means if you are on unemployment insurance, you're obligated to look for a job, which has traditionally been the case in the program. And so that will again start happening in September. We'll work and communicate that, and we'll provide updates for you on that as well. It does really two things for the program. It ensures the integrity of the program. Unemployment is meant to be a transitional program. And the second thing it does for claimants is it opens them up to reemployment services so that we can move them from the unemployment benefits that they're drawing on to meaningful employment. So, and that's the thing that we like to do the most, actually. So thank you Governor, that's the update.

Governor Bill Lee:

All right. A lot of reports, a lot of information, but let's open it up for questions. Natalie.

Natalie:

Good afternoon, Governor. The Department Of Human Services hasn't yet released the numbers of how many families have qualified or have been enrolled in the Pandemic EBT Program. But it appears that around $50 million in federal aid for those families could be left on the table. Do you support, over the next month, DHS and Department Of Education doing all they can to get that money to families who already qualify?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, we have. As you know, we've worked really hard to find those families to utilize schools who understand and partners who work with those communities. So yes, we will look at where it stands right now and develop a strategy to find those families to the degree that we can. I think there's a lot of work being done there. Sorry. So, yes, we will be.

Natalie:

I was alerting Commissioner Schwinn that I had a question for her as well regarding this, [crosstalk] if you want it to come up. So is there going to be a plan to distribute that?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, part of what we want to do is evaluate whether this was the best strategy. There were a couple of choices and States chose different routes with different challenges in both. And our challenge was different than some of the others that chose a different route. So we're trying to look at that and see which route works better. And therefore, is there something we can do to get money to the families that need it most?

Natalie:

And I was going to ask you about that concern as well. So given that DHS has said they don't have reliable address data for some of these families. Is there any reason the Department of Education shouldn't ask local school districts to help supply those addresses for those families?

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Yeah. So thanks for the question. So the Department of Education has been working with DHS and with school districts around that because different districts have community eligibility provision or other ways that they identify the students. One of the things is that we have to do now is determine how we get those addresses. The Department of Education does not maintain the addresses of individual students and families. That is at the local level. So, we are working with districts now, as they have new students that are, frankly, I'm still finalizing enrollment counts around what that can and should look like.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

We have it on tap to talk to superintendents this week to determine what is both realistic and feasible to make sure we can get as many students as possible qualified, especially those who do not have the ability to come into school and get a lunch or a breakfast if they are learning in a remote environment.

Natalie:

Since a number of students are already back in schools, is there any reason that local schools shouldn't just work to distribute those P-EBT cards to those families now that they're back, who didn't apply for it?

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Yeah. So that's one of the things that we're working on. So frankly, from the Department of Education's perspective, anything that we can do to ensure that children who can have access to food and nutrition services gets access to that. As it was provided at the school and in the school environment. We are working diligently to do that.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

We'll continue to work with individual school districts because they're all a little bit different. We want to make sure that as many students get access to those resources as possible. It's a priority we've identified and allocated additional staff to work on that with DHS.

Natalie:

Okay. Thank you. And Governor, I have another question for you because all of a sudden, a lot of interest in your authority as governor to issue emergency orders, you have the legislature holding ad hoc committees to determine whether if you followed the law on issuing your executive orders. You have these conservative groups signing petitions saying your executive orders were unconstitutional. What do you make of this recent scrutiny of your authority as governor? And what do you say to those people who are questioning your conservative credentials because you did so?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. You know we're in a pandemic. That's an unusual situation that none of us have faced. And I'm not aware that a governor has really faced a prolonged state of emergency like this and the decisions that have to be made as a result of it. We've worked really hard to make sure that everything we do falls within the framework of the constitution. The ad hoc committee you referenced, if you listen, even to the opening remarks there, the effort was just to determine whether or not the statute as it exists is appropriate for future pandemics, not so much about the specific decisions made in this pandemic. But the attorney general has weighed in on the appropriateness of the decisions. The former U.S. Attorney General Gonzales has weighed in. All three of those opinions have been that the decisions have been made according to the statute and the constitution as it is. So, we feel good about the decisions that we've made.

Speaker 1:

Hi Governor. Dennis [inaudible] You've been so steadfast about staying open and reopening for many obvious reasons. One of the sectors that has been left behind in who I'm representing today is the nursing homes. Early in the pandemic, there was a caveat of 28 days. And that has proved to be crippling. I sat with a table full of people, 28 days. Some of these large NHC nursing homes have 150 employees in and out every day. They have not cleared 28 days once. And these families will take tests. They'll wear PPE, they will meet outside. They will do anything to hug, to kiss, to do crossword puzzles, to feed their husbands and wives, to talk to their mom. For some of them, and you would understand this, they say that one month, there are things worse than death. One month with these family members would be better than 12 months in this kind of Riverbend style isolation.

Speaker 1:

It is unbelievably wearing. They are begging you to take a look and reconsider that 28 day caveat or some way to test families so they can see their loved ones. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you. You know what those families have... Let me just say, it's been a tremendous hardship. Isolation for the elderly in a nursing home is a tremendous hardship. We all recognize that. We also know that the greatest vulnerability, the greatest loss of life has occurred in nursing homes all across this country. Almost half of the deaths related to COVID have occurred in nursing homes, which is why there's been such a strong effort to protect those vulnerable. There's two pieces to that one. The one piece that's the state's responsibility we actually are looking at a change in the way we do visitation. I've asked the department and you may want to comment on this, Dr. Pearson. I've asked the department to give me a recommendation and that will be forthcoming in the next several days on how it is that we can provide safe visitation.

Governor Bill Lee:

But we're also restricted by CMS. Actually the nursing homes themselves are restricted, not by a state requirement, but by funding from the federal CMS program that provides the vast majority of funding to many of these nursing homes. Those are their requirements that are connected to funding and those private institutions make those decisions based on that funding and those requirements. Can you improve them on that?

Dr. Piercey:

We absolutely agree 100%. We know that the elderly and disabled that are in our nursing homes, miss and love and need that interaction. As the governor mentioned, many if not almost all of the restrictions that we have as a state come directly from CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services. I was on a call with CMS administrator Verma last Monday night and she indicated that "in a matter of days," they would be issuing new guidance to reduce the 28 down to perhaps 14 plus some testing. You may remember that CMS is sending out point of care testing the rapid test to all of the nursing homes. That should be complete in Tennessee by mid to late September. But she indicated that the guidance may very well go down to 14 days with the addition of that testing. I also, in addition, hope to have an announcement in the next week or two related to a task force that we're forming to look at this very issue, as well as other longterm care issues.

Governor Bill Lee:

Alex.

Alex:

Hey Governor, my first question just deals with the sort of phases of the recovery from this pandemic. The numbers look better as you started out in the press conference stating. And so, are you comfortable saying that we're in sort of a phase, where you would be waiting it out until a vaccine at this point? Are you comfortable with where Tennessee's at or is there another phase for us coming here? I mean, what is the next ... maybe you can speak to three weeks, four weeks from now.

Governor Bill Lee:

I'll be comfortable when we don't have cases of COVID in our state. Where we are in this pandemic is, we are in an improving situation. I'm very cautiously optimistic. I'm very hopeful for where it's headed. I think we know that things change rapidly and we've seen that happen from March till today. So, that's why we have to remain vigilant. What Tennesseans have been doing, as I said, appears to be working, but that means we have to keep doing it. We have to keep pursuing those efforts that have mitigated the spread, that's where we are.

Alex:

If things continued, basically, as they have for the rest of the year, into maybe early '20/'21, are you comfortable with where the state would be economically then from that?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I am not comfortable with our state's economy, until it has fully recovered. So, what I am is encouraged. We are ... It's a tremendous challenge, it's been a tremendous challenge from a public health standpoint and from an economic standpoint. We are making headway, we're making progress. Things are moving in the right direction, both economically and from a public health standpoint. So, I just remain encouraged that we are moving toward a better place.

Alex:

And one more question for you, the drug free school zone and the mandatory minimum laws was changed this year. I've asked you before about the folks that are already serving a sentence based on how that law was before this year. Your parole board denied a man's parole recently, and also encouraged him not to apply. He's serving a first time arrest, 15 year sentence off of that. And I'm struggling to understand why a review of some kind, of all of those cases is not necessary here, simply because you won't have anyone henceforth serving that kind of sentence for these crimes.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. So, we're talking about that within our office, working with the parole board to understand what their recommendations are, but we're also evaluating that approach, the entire approach to that particular issue. And we haven't ... We're making progress on that, but we haven't made a decision.

Alex:

But would you rather see those? I mean, because some things like clemency applications, can get to you, if they get past that parole board.

Governor Bill Lee:

I've actually changed the process of the parole board that allows to review decisions by the parole board. And for this very reason, just so that we can see what's happening and evaluate if there needs to be any changes.

Speaker 2:

My question is actually for Commissioner Schwinn, if that's okay.

Governor Bill Lee:

Commissioner Schwinn.

Speaker 2:

Thank you all for taking our questions today. Last week, Rutherford County schools ask parents to sign a waiver form to strongly discouraging non-student participation in classes. They said it concerns over academic privacy. I wondered if you could clarify the department's stance on academic privacy and then also parental supervision of virtual learning.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Sure. So I mean, I would direct questions about that specific policy to that local district. From the department's perspective, if my child is in my home on a computer taking a course, I can tell you that my husband is sitting next to my child, watching and helping my child learn. And so, our expectation is that parents have access and in whatever way is appropriate for them making decisions for their own children.

Speaker 2:

Also, the department's teacher survey earlier this year, noted that one in five teachers are spending more than 10 hours self-sourcing education curriculum each year. I was wondering, does the department have any mechanism for overseeing that self-source curriculum?

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Overseeing the? I'm sorry.

Speaker 2:

The self-source curriculum.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Yeah. So, that's a great question. So a couple of things. So one is we did see too many teachers who were spending too many hours trying to find instructional materials for their classrooms. That's why we have put that as part of our strategic plan to identify high quality materials and ensure those materials are available for free, Best For All Central's a great example of that. In terms of what teachers are using, the statute says that districts are required to adopt specific materials that go through a process and approved by the state board. We do know that teachers are sourcing other things to be able to get through day-to-day for lessons. Again, that is why it's a strategic priority. And at this point, we do expect that every teacher in the state should have access to high quality materials. It is something we will continue to spend a lot of time and energy and investment in, but certainly I can't comment on what individual teachers are using, but we certainly hope that they're using those free resources we're providing.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn:

Yes.

Governor Bill Lee:

Let me add my comments to parental review. Parents should have access to every form of learning that their children have access to. Parents need the ability to know exactly what's being taught to their kids. And so, we will work to make sure that happens across our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

Brett.

Brett:

I have a two part question for Dr. Piercey. So, as we've discussed in the past two to two and a half weeks, there have been some dramatic improvements in the slowing of infection spread and positivity rates. I guess first, what is working? And then two, are there any cities, counties, regions, grand divisions that are an exception to this progress, places that are not seeing the same good news that we are seeing statewide.

Dr. Piercey:

I'm glad you asked the question, Brett, because it allows me to brag on Tennesseans. Tennesseans have done a fabulous job of doing exactly what we've asked them to do. Taking personal responsibility in staying home when they don't have to go out, of keeping their distance, of wearing their face covering, of washing their hands, staying at home when they're sick. And it's really a multifaceted effort by a lot of people. And I'm really, really encouraged that we're starting to see progress.

Dr. Piercey:

As I mentioned last week, every area in our state, both metro and rural, are either stable to declining. What we're seeing here in Tennessee, is the same trend that we're seeing nationally, which is the large urban areas dropped off pretty precipitously first. And then, the midsize cities had their decline and the rural areas are now starting to stabilize and some are starting to decline. It's the same trend we're seeing here in Tennessee, our rural areas are just now starting to stabilize, but that's also what we're seeing nationally.

Brett:

The rural areas are last in that progression, but the news from those areas is still positive.

Dr. Piercey:

The news is absolutely still positive in rural areas, that their rates are stabilizing. We're also starting to see hospitalization stabilize in those areas. Again, same trend we're seeing nationally, so I don't have any reason to believe that those won't be in the decline in the next week or two.

Brett:

If this pattern holds, what would be the timeframe for us to see a parallel decline in deaths?

Dr. Piercey:

That's a great question too. So, we've talked a lot about leading and lagging indicators. So, hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators. We typically see hospitalizations go down a week or two after case rates, and then deaths two to three weeks after that. You also have to remember that there could be seven to 10 days in lag of death reporting, so the deaths will be the last thing you see to go down. We are starting to see that stabilize, haven't started to quite see that decline yet, expect to see that the next week or two.

Brett:

Thanks.

Dr. Piercey:

Thanks.

Andy:

Hey Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Andy.

Andy:

Getting back to the situation with the lawsuit that was filed by this this group, challenging your authority to be able to delegate decisions over limited health decisions and such, such as masks. I mean, how confident are you that you're on solid legal ground? Why do you think that? And what's your backup plan if you wrong? [crosstalk].

Governor Bill Lee:

I think I just have to ... The answer to that's really what I said earlier, which is, that we've worked really hard to sure that our decision making process falls within the authority that's given to the governor's office, through the Constitution and through statute. And as I said, the attorney general, the US attorney general, former US attorney general, former US state supreme court, all three have evaluated that and weighed-in on it. So I feel like we've made the right decisions.

Andy:

And it's an accord, you never know what happens.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah.

Andy:

What's the backup plan? If in case-

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah.

Andy:

They find an issue.

Governor Bill Lee:

That's hypothetical, we'll cross that bridge when, and if we got there.

Andy:

Okay. On Another point, different topic. There's there's been fuss over Martin Daniel who released ... Well there's information involving claims paid and overpayment of claims by Blue Cross and Cigna. And there was a report done by this outfit out of Connecticut, Claim Informatics. Anyhow, Blue Cross is very unhappy and it has written ... We had a story today that Blue Cross has written a letter to this company, threatening potential legal action against this firm, with these two reports that it issued. What do you know about this and what are your thoughts about it? Do you think, I mean, the state and I think the controller and the attorney general were having a ... well, they're going to put this out to bid, I guess, for a firm to take a look at how these claims are processed and such. What do you know about that? And what is your position?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. I don't ... I haven't ... I don't know a lot about that situation. I think the controller reviews those situations. I can't comment about specifics, I haven't looked into it.

Andy:

I mean, this is your Department of Finance, a division oversees this. So, it falls-

Governor:

So we will review that. There'll be a process for review to make sure that any arrangements financially with ... that have state oversight, will be appropriate. That's all I can say is, we'll make sure that those arrangements are appropriate.

Speaker 3:

Hey Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Hey sir.

Speaker 3:

Back to the lawsuit and more from a public health standpoint, how much of a detriment to public health do you think it would be, if unilaterally you are no longer allowed to let counties require masks? Given what you've seen over the past, X number of weeks with improvement in numbers.

Governor Bill Lee:

I think what Dr. Piercey said, is true, which is what Tennesseans are doing is help to mitigate the spread. Tennesseans are wearing masks, they're social distancing. They're doing all the things that we've talked about. That's what appears to be working. That's what will mitigate the spread. We have every reason to believe that the decisions that have made, as I've said, are constitutionally sound. And I also have every reason to believe Tennesseans will keep doing what they need to do, because they're ... It's personal responsibility protecting their own health and the health of others around them and protect the economy around them as well. So, I think this is, what's happening in our state is the decision of people to respond to the virus and to the challenges economically. And in somewhat, yeah that's, what's working, that'll continue to work. And I continue to believe that what we've done is appropriate.

Speaker 3:

Do you think that the county mandates are specifically helping the cause at this point or [crosstalk] responsibility?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think that giving local leaders the authority to institute what's best for their communities, that's been my approach from the beginning. It appears to be working, but mask requirements are not what has solved the problem, what solved the problem is behavior of Tennesseans, that's what solved the challenges we have. And I believe that's going to continue. I think Tennesseans know that that's what we have to keep doing. So, I think that's the solution.

Speaker 3:

And you talked last week about, you're going to reach out to the federal government about the school data issue. Have you heard anything back on them? What's the conversation like?

Governor Bill Lee:

We are working on that. So we are ... First of all, we need to remember that parents and children ... The parents of children that are exposed and teachers that are exposed, have that data, the people that need to know specifically what's happening in a school do, but we want to provide a greater level of that. So, we've had conversations and are talking with other states as well, to determine how best to provide that level of transparency.

Speaker 3:

Thanks.

Governor Bill Lee:

Sergio.

Sergio:

Thank you. Hello, governor, how are you?

Governor Bill Lee:

Fine, sir.

Sergio:

It's good talking to you. Going back to the question on transparency on the data. As you mentioned, parents of the kids that have been exposed, they are notified, but the rest of the school community is not necessarily notified about a potential outbreak. You've talked about giving parents the choice, a choice of whether their kids should return to school. So, how can parents make an informed decision, when they don't have all the facts or details needed to decide whether it's safe or not to send their kids to school?

Governor Bill Lee:

Which is why we're trying to provide that level of transparency or the greatest level of transparency that we can. We're working toward that end. We believe that we'll have a solution for that in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner. And so, that's why we're working for it, so people can have as much information as possible, make the right decisions.

Sergio:

The next couple of weeks sounds like a really long time. Just because-

Governor Bill Lee:

Or sooner. We hope it's sooner. There's a lot of coordination with the federal government, in order to make sure that we don't cross over lines that we can't, but we believe it'll be forthcoming soon.

Sergio:

I guess my question is right now, if a parent ... So right now, it's up to school districts to decide what information to release. Right now, it's apparently city school district, where that agency has decided not to make this information public. What can they do or how can they access information whether there's an outbreak in schools, is there something available for them at this point?

Governor Bill Lee:

Dr. Piercey, can you address that? Does the Health Department release that information? Or Penny, do you know how it works specifically with school districts? It's one of the reasons we want to get it done.

Commissioner Piercey:

Question is about health department and school communication.

Governor Bill Lee:

He says that there's cases in school and that district is not providing information on a broad level, numbers that weren't... The very issue that we're trying to get to in the meantime, what do those parents do? Can they reach out to Department of Health?

Sergio:

How can they access that information? If there's a possibility for that?

Dr. Piercey:

The best point of contact right now is the school district itself. The school district is empowered with permission from their board attorney to share any information they want to do. The health department would not be able to release that information directly to a parent, unless it's obviously the parent of that child.

Dr. Piercey:

And so, the school is the best point of information right now, but I want to emphasize what the governor mentioned earlier. There's a narrative that the parents of the affected children may not know. That's absolutely untrue. The parent of... obviously the case, but also the contacts of that case will absolutely know, that teacher will know, that school will know. Having broad information about other cases that are unrelated in the school, that would be the schools to disclose Commissioner Swin may have additional detail on that.

Sergio:

I guess they want it to press just to make sure my question is answered in terms of the school districts that the lawyers have said, you can not tell the information it's violating FERPA or any other privacy law. Is there an option for parents to know more information if the school board says no.

Dr. Piercey:

At this point, I think those are still the issues that we're looking into. You have to recognize that not every parent wants their information shared about their child. And so we respect that as well. And so if the school board and the school itself doesn't want to disclose that information, I would suppose then the other information channels are less official through social media and word of mouth. There would not be any other official source of that. At this time, those are exactly the avenues we're pursuing.

Sergio:

I guess we'll have one last question for the governor today. The UT chancellor Plowman announced that the university will start disciplinary action against four students, three of them for hosting off-campus parties. They now could face suspensions or greater penalties. I want to know what are your thoughts on these? I mean, at the end of the day, these students are paying tuition, but still they violated this agreement. So what are your thoughts on that commission?

Governor Bill Lee:

Chancellor Plowman is very serious about making efforts to keep the university of Tennessee open and available to students. And she's made some very strong and important efforts to make sure that kids are safe and to make sure that children that are enrolled there are safe. And that means instituting policies in the university that makes sure that happens. And she has the authority to do that. And I think making decisions that she thinks are in the best interest of the kids.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Governor last Friday night, Colleyville High School, had a football game at home. And the administration apparently decided not to let the media in. I believe that had 650 or so fans, but no, reporters were allowed so they could see how the game was being played, how fans were interacting, et cetera, how do you respond or to something like that, do you think they did the right thing? I think they've now reversed that for the next game.

Governor Bill Lee:

I think the media plays a really important role in allowing people in our community to see what's going on in their community. I don't see a reason why members of the community and members of the media not be allowed into a public high school football game. So I don't know much about the details of that, but I think it would be appropriate at any time for the media to be at a public high school football game.

Speaker 4:

Okay. Yeah. One more thing. Kind of going back to the legislation that was passed in the special session, there's been a question raised on why there was a reaction with a legislation that seemed to be targeted at some of the protesters out here on the War Memorial Plaza, as opposed to some of the people who protested at one point when they were upset, because you had instituted the safer at home order. And I think some of those might've been waving guns and stuff like that. Why in response to this, but not necessarily in response to the other type of protest.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. Well, first of all, protests are part of the fabric of this country and we need to make sure that peaceful protest is protected. We want to make sure that happens. That particular legislation that passed in the general assembly was ultimately created and approved by the legislature to protect state property, protect from vandalism, to protect the rule of law. To prevent what we saw happening with the destruction of businesses and property and state property. And that happened in our streets and everyone saw it and we don't want that to happen in the future. We also saw 10,000 people in a protest peacefully, and that's what we need to happen. So that was what that law was built for. The legislature, put together the details of that. And I signed it.

Speaker 4:

But you don't feel like the legislature overstepped its bounds by targeting one group instead of another.

Governor Bill Lee:

I think, on balance what that piece of legislation did was appropriate.

Speaker 4:

Okay.

Phil:

Hi governor,

Governor Bill Lee:

Hey Phil.

Phil:

I've actually a couple of questions for Commissioner Piercey.

Governor Bill Lee:

Okay.

Phil:

Commissioner, we have, you've talked about the lagging indicators while we have seen a dramatic drop in confirmed new cases. The number of new hospitalizations has not shown that same trend line, now here two or three weeks into it. Any idea of why that is?

Dr. Piercey:

Yeah, that's a good question. We're starting to see more hospitalizations out of our rural population. In fact, just a couple of our hospitals have told us that maybe upwards of 80 plus percent of their COVID patients are from rural areas. So as the COVID cases in rural areas were high a few weeks ago, we're now starting to see those hospitalizations and then deaths are going to be even lighter than that. So it's not surprising. It's just going to take a little bit longer to play out.

Phil:

And a question about testing on July 28th, I went to a state testing center and it took me two weeks to get my results. I have a colleague who got a test on August the eighth, 17 days later, she still does not have results. And she's been told there's no record that she even took a test. What is happening with our testing?

Dr. Piercey:

Yeah, those kinds of delays are certainly upsetting, but I haven't heard a lot of those prolonged anecdotes lately. Looked at our lab turnaround time this morning. And the statewide average is now 2.13 days. And the vast majority of our labs are turning around in less than 48 hours. I'm unsure of the specifics of your colleague, but we've heard anecdotes, one of our colleagues here just got tested last Wednesday afternoon. And had results Thursday morning. So it's variable, but on the whole, it's quite a bit less lag time than it used to be.

Phil:

And just one quick followup you've pointed out in the past that this number you throw out about the testing turnaround time is very different from the time it takes for the test to get to the lab. And then for the results to get to the person any idea of what that number is?

Dr. Piercey:

Yeah, actually that's a good distinction. So part of it is transportation time on the front end, although that's really being minimized now through a lot of courier services. On the back end, and this is important for your viewers. One of the fastest ways to get results is if the lab has a portal where you can go in and log in, some people rely on a phone call or even mail, snail mail to get that in which that takes longer. The fastest way to get results is to go into any kind of portal that your lab may have because those results are available immediately, as soon as they come off the machine.

Speaker 5:

Yes. I have a question for commissioner McCord, and I think he's sort of expecting this. And as he's walking up there, I'll say what it is. You had said that the unemployment, the new unemployment money from the federal government through FEMA is being processed as we speak or during the next couple of days. I apologize if I didn't hear when that might get to Tennessee.

Commissioner McCord:

So it's usually 24, 48 hours after the processing time. So folks should be able to see it as early as this week into next week is when they begin to see those $300 payments. Those won't be $300 payments though. There'll be $900 payments because we'll go that first payment is for three weeks, the first three weeks in August.

Speaker 5:

And you had a warning there about, there's only so much money you have here that has come from the federal government for this program. Can you go over that again? Because I wasn't quite clear on that.

Commissioner McCord:

Sure. It's $44 billion for the whole country. And there's two areas that are not necessarily States like Guam who also have unemployment insurance. So it's a zero sum game. And so if all States and all territories participate, there's going to be less money for each particular state and or territory. And what we've seen is that the vast majority of States and territories are participating. So that means less money per individual state. FEMA is working to allocate those. That is why we just got the first three weeks, the first installment that we had. We'll begin to have conversations again with FEMA to find out what the next installment will be.

Commissioner McCord:

And then those conversations will very quickly turn to once they have all the States in. And remember fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, States had til September 10th to declare their intent to apply. And so FEMA has to be cautious cause there's only so much money to go around. And so right now the best estimates are five or six weeks of this lost wage replacement. This is not traditional unemployment. It's completely different. And so if it's five or six weeks, we've in the process, look for those payments next week or later this week of the first three weeks. Is those first three weeks in August.

Speaker 5:

Thank you. And real quick with Commissioner Zelle, do you have any sense of when the tourism industry in this state, which might get back to its levels that we just touted earlier? Sorry to get you up. [inaudible] Well, you've got to be asked these questions though. [crosstalk] And, you'll have some sort Of plan to bring it back to those levels.

Commissioner Zelle:

Absolutely. And we will be doing that with some of this cares act money that we are using. Certainly Tennessee has a wide array of tourism assets and more seeing the outdoors. Our state parks are at record levels. Some of those groups are already experiencing a lot of our small towns communities are already restored with their safe travel. So the bigger entities, the large events are going to take time. They're going to have to be unlimited capacity in the way that we do that. And so really we, we wait for a vaccine for some of those solves, but in the meantime, how do we do that with face covers, social distancing and sanitation.

Speaker 5:

Thank you.

Speaker 6:

Governor that's the time we have today.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you all, a lot of information, a lot of great questions, appreciate it. We will, we will return. I want to close again like I opened very cautiously optimistic, very hopeful, very grateful for Tennessee. And from the very beginning at, as stood here and said, Tennesseans have individual responsibility in this you've stepped up and done that we have a long way to go. We are optimistic. Things are turning in the right direction. We have a long way to go, but we will prevail. We will get there because of what you are doing. That's what's going to do it. We're grateful for your help. So thank you.