Skip to Main Content

Find COVID-19 Information and Resources
Commitment to Accessibility

August 4, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us for our Tuesday briefing today. I had the privilege this week of starting off the week by going first thing Monday to rural west Tennessee, to the Obion County Central High School, where we met with teachers who are preparing to welcome students back to their classrooms. Commissioner Schwinn and I were there to hand out to ... among other things, to hand out kits for teachers that have masks, and disinfectant wipes, and gloves. 80,000 such kits, we'll be handing out to teachers for every classroom in this state.

Governor Bill Lee:

And that's something that our state was the first to do, and we were proud to be there to deliver those. To put that in context, it takes about 50 truckloads just for the disinfectant wipes. It's been a lot of work to get those out, but we are grateful to our TEMA group, our team at TEMA. Patrick Sheehan is here with us today to answer questions about that if anybody has it. But we worked with TEMA and the National Guard. We've also had help from private partners. FedEx has been a great partner with us in determining the logistics in how to get those packets out ... those 80,000 packets out. We're also grateful for Pfizer Corporation who gave our state a $250,000 grant to provide touchless thermometers, so those will be accessible to school districts all across the state.

Governor Bill Lee:

The school year brings challenges. It brings opportunities for students, but it brings a great deal of challenges as well. This month, Maria ... my wife, Maria, the first lady, her Tennessee Serves Initiative is providing opportunities for folks all across the state to collect and donate school supplies to classrooms. COVID-19 has created a significant financial strain for a lot of families, and the cost of going back to school are significant to them. A backpack full of supplies and extra box of crayons is a welcome sight to many families, so I encourage Tennesseans to go to the first lady's website at tn.gov and see how they can participate, how they can be a part of making contributions of collecting supplies for kids, and making it just a little bit easier for families as they take their kids back to school.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thursday, we'll have Commissioner Schwinn at our press briefing on Thursday. We'll dedicate that press briefing primarily to opening of schools and everything associated with that. She's out in the counties right now visiting with school districts as she was with me yesterday. Excuse me. She'll be doing that throughout the week, so we'll have that special briefing on Thursday.

Governor Bill Lee:

I want to talk a little bit about the special session. I've called the legislature together to meet next Monday to take up legislation that we were working on, but that wasn't complete at the last session. Specifically, extending liability protections to businesses, and schools, and nonprofits, and healthcare workers, and organizations across the state to protect those from frivolous laws. Excuse me. Could you get me some water please?

Governor Bill Lee:

Frivolous lawsuits associated with COVID-19. Organizations and individuals are facing enough uncertainty, and we need to make sure that they have that certainty of a liability protection going forward. So, we're working on that. The general assembly also will look to expand and address the need for telehealth, particularly at a time when Tennesseans ... We can modernize our healthcare system to give Tennesseans more flexibility and access to coverage through the pandemic and beyond, so we'll be working on that telehealth piece of legislation.

Governor Bill Lee:

There's a third piece of business that the legislature will take up that will address laws governing the capitol grounds and surrounding areas when it comes to issues like vandalism, defacement, or other offenses against state property. I want to thank Lieutenant Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton. They have, in particular, loaned leadership in both chambers. Been working hard to put together. The pieces of this legislation will be ... the administration will be bringing forth these bills, but it's taken a lot of work to get us to the point where we are today, so that when we get into the special session we can accomplish what needs to get done there.

Governor Bill Lee:

Also want to thank Lieutenant Governor and Speaker, along with the comptroller members of the legislature, both Democrats and Republicans who've come together to create the financial stimulus accountability group that we have put together to make decisions around the coronavirus relief funding that we've received from the federal government. This funding is intended to support relief and support for issues around COVID. It has to be spent by the end of the year, or we have to return it. So, we are developing a plan to make sure that those funds are spent wisely with the help of this bipartisan group. We're not only providing support to businesses as has been identified, but also to K-12, higher education, nonprofits, and local governments.

Governor Bill Lee:

So far, more than $100 million dollars has been distributed to Tennessee businesses ... small businesses across the state. We want to make sure that we communicate with as many of those small businesses as possible, because all of them have not accessed those funds. They need to go to the department of revenue website to provide the information necessary for them to get the checks that are due to them, and that are coming their way.

Governor Bill Lee:

We encourage that. Besides that $100 million so far, $81 million has been distributed to K-12 and to higher education institutions for safe opening of schools. $150 million is coming online this month to go to support nonprofits across the state that are serving Tennesseans in a number of ways through this COVID-19 pandemic, and local governments also have access to $115 million in grants. This is in addition to the $200 million that previously were set aside through the budget by the general assembly.

Governor Bill Lee:

Dedicated stewardship means that we are serving our customers through this coronavirus relief funding, and our customers are hard work taxpayers from Tennessee. We want to make sure that we do that in a fiscally responsible way, and that's what this accountability group is set up to do. In the coming weeks, we're going to have next steps for programming. That includes agricultural relief, housing relief, diverse business enterprise programming with input from minority-owned banks. A number of those programs will be announced in the coming weeks as we continue to steward the funds that have come to us from the federal government to those here in Tennessee that need it most.

Governor Bill Lee:

I want to take a moment just to thank the National Guard. Joe Holmes and his leadership has been important in supporting our airmen and our soldiers who have been fanned out all across this state. I'm grateful for the Trump Administration who has extended their support for ... and primarily this is funding for the National Guard in its efforts to help with COVID-19 relief. You've seen the National Guard at testing centers all over the state, making food distributions to school, delivering PPE to every county in our state. And many of these guardsmen, men and women who are serving, have spent a lot of time away from their families dedicated to serving Tennessee. As I thank General Holmes, but most importantly I thank the men and women in the National Guard who continue to be and will continue to be a really important part of how it is that we address the pandemic.

Governor Bill Lee:

With a crisis of this magnitude that has been sustained for this period of time, and that will go on into the near future. We're all called, every single one of us, as we've said from the very beginning of this pandemic to have an individual responsibility to being a part of how it is that we fight COVID-19 in our state. It means that each one of us has to take up new habits, and have taken up new habits like social distancing habits, like frequent hand washing or staying home when you're sick, and like wearing a mask. If wearing a mask isn't a part of your regular routine, I want to encourage you that it is one simple way that you can participate and contribute to how it is that we each come together to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee.

Governor Bill Lee:

There are several local leaders ... and I have said many times before. I think cooperation with and work with local leaders is the way to get this done. There are several local leaders who are modeling the way when it comes to wearing mask, and leading their communities in many ways through a very challenging situation. I want to recognize and thank them. Fayette County, Mayor Ray Taylor. Tipton County, Executive Jeff Huffman. Henry County, Mayor Brent Greer. And Hamblen County, Mayor Bill Brittain, just this week announced their mask requirements for their citizens to help protect the people and their community, and to help us spread the word. That masks are an important part of fighting this COVID-19. Almost 70% of our population are now under mask requirements, and we know that that is helping us to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Governor Bill Lee:

We'll have reports now. I've asked Commissioner McCord to join us today to provide a brief report regarding unemployment, many of the questions and issues that have come up regarding unemployment in our state. Unemployment has hit hard. Many Tennesseans are out of work as a result of this pandemic and we want to serve them in the best way possible in the state. It's been a tremendous challenge, as we all know, but Commissioner McCord, if you would come up and give your report. I will say also Dr. Dunn, our epidemiologist and Department of Health will be giving a report today. He's been responsible primarily in large part for our testing strategy, so I wanted him to give the health report today. Commissioner Schwinn, as I said, will be with us on Thursday for school reopening plan and will address more specifics of that. So Commissioner McCord.

Commissioner McCord:

Thank you, sir. Good afternoon. I do want to touch on a topic that I know is important to a lot of Tennesseans and people are seeking clarity to that's new to us and that is the topic of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, also known as the additional $600. Over $4 billion of federal unemployment insurance has been distributed throughout the state since March 15th, since we started. A large percentage of that is that additional $600 and as we know, that ended on July 25th. I think it's important for folks to know though that if an eligible claim is filed and certified on or before July 25th, they're still eligible for that $600 up until July 25th.

Commissioner McCord:

We have a lot of questions about will some supplemental unemployment insurance be added? We're in constant communication with our federal partners and we're trying to understand what it will be. We are pretty sure that it will be something, but we quite frankly don't know what that is yet. So we're waiting to see just like everyone else is. Our emphasis is on implementation, as you can imagine, a new program coming in, and so we've given quite a bit of feedback to the federal government about that. Once legislation is passed, U.S. DOL will have to take some time to provide guidance, and that's basically since it is a federal program, the instructions on how you do that federal program, and then we'll have to turn them around and implement it. And we have emphasized, as have our sister states, that as soon as we can get that guidance, the better, because we know as soon as that legislation's passed, the clock is ticking and folks are ready for whatever that may be to start being implemented. So with that Governor, that's what I have.

Governor Bill Lee:

Commissioner McCord will be available for questions too when we do Q and A in a few minutes. Dr. Dunn, would you give a health report?

Dr. Dunn:

All right. Thank you, Governor Lee. Good afternoon, thank you for the opportunity to share this update from TDH, the Department of Health and the Unified-Command Group. We're encouraged today by modest declines in the number of new COVID cases, but we know that we face important challenges ahead. We must continue to take actions personally, as Governor Lee said, and in our communities to prevent the spread of the virus. We're asking Tennesseans to continue to take simple actions to slow COVID-19. Your decisions help fight COVID-19 when you're practicing social distancing, when you wash or sanitize your hands, and when you wear a face covering. Today, the Tennessee Department of Health is reporting a total of 112,441 cases, including 1,805 new cases.

Dr. Dunn:

As a reminder, COVID-19 testing remains important and available statewide. We continue to monitor and work with clinical laboratories to increase the speed of testing. Notably, your Tennessee State laboratory recently passed a milestone of conducting over 100,000 COVID tests. While we continue to make testing accessible to all Tennesseans, we want to strongly encourage persons with symptoms of COVID to talk to their medical provider and get tested. As we've learned during the pandemic, early medical assessment, testing, and appropriate healthcare can not only lead to a better health outcome, but also helps with slowing community spread as health officials reach out to cases and their close contacts.

Dr. Dunn:

As mentioned, some parts of our states appear to have stabilized or slowed in the number of new cases. However, other regions of the state are still experiencing large daily increases, especially some of our rural areas. Statewide, our hospital assets continue to be stable, although rural areas have seen an increase number of COVID hospitalizations as expected as cases have arisen. We're continuing to monitor the situation closely and support hospital systems statewide.

Dr. Dunn:

While some of the news is promising in today's report, other news is sobering. Notably, since our last press briefing, we've surpassed 1000 deaths in Tennessee due to COVID-19. Around 80% of those deaths have been among persons older than 60 years of age. Today, we're reporting 25 new deaths for a total of 1,117 lives lost from COVID infection. This is a solemn reminder of the pandemic's toll and the impact on families and persons who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. This is also a compelling reminder for everyone in Tennessee to do what you can to limit the spread of COVID-19, not only for yourself, but for your community, family, and friends. We want to encourage Tennesseans to continue to do the little things that have a big impact, including staying home when ill, washing your hands, social distancing, and using a face covering. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you. And we too thank you for the opportunity to do these briefings for you all to get out the information that is so important. The press, the media play an increasingly important role as we navigate our way through this, so we're grateful for these briefings and grateful for your dissemination of information to the people of Tennessee. And we're happy to take questions.

Speaker 1:

Hi, Governor. I have two questions for you, if I may. The first one a little more specific. A hospital reopened in Celina, Tennessee. The fact that it reopened was a good trend for Tennessee. It has tried to get both state and federal funding to supplement it's reopening. It's not gotten any of that yet, reason being based on my understanding was because you have to show what your expenses were last year, what your budget looked like, and they base it off of that. They didn't have any expenses last year. Makes me wonder, and Senator Mark Pody put it this way, that the letter of the law is being followed, but we might be missing the spirit of the law. Would you tell the Department of Revenue, I guess would who it would be, to look at allowing exceptions in a special case like that?

Governor Bill Lee:

We certainly need to look at it. Our rural hospitals are a very important part of the healthcare infrastructure. We initially very early on in this pandemic set aside initially $10 million for relief to rural hospitals. There's been a significant influx of relief from federal government as well, but we want to take individual circumstances like that, look at them, and we will do so. I'll speak with the Department Commissioner himself and we'll talk about that specific case and if there's something that can be done.

Speaker 1:

My other question is to help me understand the reasoning behind not reporting, on a school by school level, the number of cases in a school? And my question is why, but then also is there a need for a framework so that every school gets similar information? Whereas one school might get a ton of information, another school might opt to tell parents nothing, and I think that that gray area could be troublesome for families. I'm curious your thoughts.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, we agree with the assessment that we need to make certain that reporting is accurate there, so we're working on a plan to in fact be able to report school cases. We do want to protect the individual privacy of families and students, patient re-identification is important, but transparency's also important. So we've had some pretty strong discussions among our Unified-Command Group about just how it is that we can update and develop a strategy, it's not really update, we're just now dealing with this, but develop a strategy for case reporting for schools. And we'll be talking and announcing what that plan is in the next several days. I don't have a time frame on that yet, but we know it's urgent because we need schools to know now that they're opening up and we'll develop that plan. Andy.

Andy:

Governor, the Tennessee Education Association is just saying, don't open them up physically. You all know it's dangerous, too dangerous. What do you say to that?

Governor Bill Lee:

Teachers have a really, really important role to play in reopening schools. Obviously it's really, really important that parents have a choice about how their kids are receiving education. It's important that kids get back into classrooms when possible, as we have said before, particularly students that receive nutrition through schools, that receive mental health services, the reporting for child abuse cases, children with disabilities that receive special services through their schools. None of that happens, or it doesn't effectively happen in many cases, if kids are not in the classroom. So we know it's important for them to be in school, but we also know it's really important to provide a safe environment for teachers, including students, but teachers as well. It's why we've worked so hard to distribute these health safety packets to every teacher and every classroom. I've met with teachers, did this week, met with educators again today. The large majority of teachers are going back into the classroom and they understand that they are a very important part of this. So we're doing what we can to support teachers.

Andy:

Given that the state is not going to be tracking illnesses, COVID infections, or even deaths, I guess, what assurances do you give parents who are concerned about what may be going on in their schools and whether the school's leveling with them about what problems there may be?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, as I just said, we're actually developing a plan for reporting cases in schools.

Andy:

And when is that going to...

Governor Bill Lee:

We don't have a timeline, but it will be soon. Schools need to know it soon as they're opening up. So within a week or so.

Speaker 2:

Governor Lee, there's been a proposal for legislators coming back for special session to be required to wear masks while they're meeting for the special session.

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm having a hard time hearing you.

Speaker 2:

I'm sorry.

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry.

Speaker 2:

There's been a proposal to require legislators to wear masks in the Capitol on the floor and in committees during special session, do you believe that legislators coming back for the special session that you called, should be required to wear masks?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think every Tennessean should wear masks when they're in a position where they can't social distance. The legislature will determine their own individual rules for a number of things when they come back. So, I'll leave that up to the legislature.

Speaker 3:

Hey Governor, there's already been nine cases of COVID-19 in schools that have already reopened. What can you say, aside from what you already have to parents and teachers and students, that they should have confidence that you guys are actually going to reopen safely?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, we've done a lot of work around that, as you know. We also know we're going to have cases. We developed a very clear protocol, that has been given to individual districts, and that protocol is based on community spread in a county. So, it's different for different counties, depending on the level of virus that exists in their community.

Governor Bill Lee:

Those protocols give them guidance on when to close a classroom, when to coordinate off a hallway or a wing or a school. And those districts have that information. It's that combined with the protection for teachers. Those are just a couple of examples of how we believe we've set aside and put forth guidance that will allow for safe re-opening.

Speaker 3:

You've frequently said that nothing is off the table when it comes to combating COVID-19 yet you've ruled out statewide mask orders, closing bars, limiting dining, and restaurants, and shutting down the state's economy once again. What exactly remains on the table and what are you doing besides just expanded testing, PSAs and urging Tennesseans to do their part?

Governor Bill Lee:

You know, I think everything is always on the table given we don't know what the future holds. Where we are today, where the virus is today, we're implementing the things that we think are appropriate responses to the spread of the virus in our state today. But as I said, we don't know what the future holds. I have from the beginning, tried to be one who looks at where we are and have changed positions at times based on spread of the virus or caseload in a community and that's the way we'll do it going forward. We'll just follow the information that is on the ground and make decisions as such.

Speaker 3:

And then one last quick question, your special session call had three topics. Did you consider any other legislation, including ones more directly related to the pandemic, including maybe waiving the no excuse requirement for voting in the November election or implementing a moratorium on evictions or anything else that sort of Tennesseean maybe even increasing the unemployment benefit for the state. Did you think about anything else?

Governor Bill Lee:

We certainly consider a lot of opportunities, a special session as a unique situation. We need it to be narrowly focused so that we can get the work done and be certain of what we're going to get done. So we certainly considered a lot of things, but we took up what we thought were pieces of legislation that were underway when the session closed last time. And that most felt ... both speakers felt like needed to be completed and finished. And so that's what we put in the call.

Speaker 4:

One of the topics that you got for the special session, it deals with the defacing of property and control of state Capitol and surrounding grounds. Why not something that deals with police brutality? I know that the Democrats that introduced some legislation dealing with that and in light of all of the uproar protests and so forth, why not go that direction?

Governor Bill Lee:

You know, I think we had a press briefing here a month or so ago where we brought together members of law enforcement, TBI Sheriff's departments, highway patrol, and to begin the process of developing a strategy to minimize police brutality, to make reforms to our policing that are appropriate for the day. And that works ongoing. That will be ongoing. That's an ongoing effort. There are opportunities for legislation and the regular session that will begin in January. So we just took forth ... We brought forth what we thought was most important to get done right now in the midst of this pandemic.

Speaker 4:

If you've already taken steps, though, with the task force, why not have the legislature do something to show that you're really serious about it?

Governor Bill Lee:

We're very serious about it. That's why we put together that group. And while we're continuing to work on that, we're very serious about it. But we determined what was most important for this special session and that's what we called.

Speaker 5:

Thank you [inaudible]. Good afternoon Governor. Thanks for taking questions today. I am curious to know what changed in terms of now saying that the city is going to report cases and track the cases of COVID-19 the schools? The reason I ask is because a few hours ago, the department of education defended their decision to not publish this numbers to WPLN. The department said in a statement that it was not going to collect data regarding COVID-19 cases and the school and district level teams will be tracking cases of COVID-19 within their school communities, but they were not going to make it public.

Governor Bill Lee:

I'll say, we've had a lot of discussion. I believe that we have to protect privacy, but we also have to be transparent. And that policy change hadn't been made yet. As I said, it'll be announced in another week or so and we haven't communicated that with every department because we haven't created that policy change, but we're working on that right now.

Speaker 5:

Well, you're telling us ... I just want for you to be definitive. We will know the number of cases in school districts across the state.

Governor Bill Lee:

We will give you a plan within a week of what information it is that we're going to provide with the intent of being more transparent so that communities know what's happening in schools with regard to COVID. I can't tell you exactly what we'll be reporting for every school or every classroom, but we'll have a plan that increases transparency around reporting and protects the privacy of folks health.

Speaker 5:

I have a question about the special session. You said it has taken a lot of work to get to a place and agreement so that when the legislature comes back next week, they can be successful and pass the COVID-19 liability bill. Is this new bill going to be a retroactive? I mean, this was one of the points where the two chambers disagreed.

Governor Bill Lee:

Right. There is a retroactivity in the limited liability protection bill that the draft of that bill is almost complete. And there is a level of retroactivity to that.

Speaker 5:

And so it feels like this was negotiated in a way behind the scenes, because the public was not part of this discussion, the press, wasn't a part of this discussion or any meeting where these differences were hashed out. Why do it this way?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, to be clear, we will make a proposal to the legislature, but then it will be hashed out, right? It will be determined what is done. The administration will ... Based on conversations we've had about what members want, we will deliver a piece of legislation as we always do. And then the general assembly will debate that, discuss it, have committee. It will be open. And that's how that process will work. Just like it does with any piece of legislation.

Speaker 5:

Thank you, Governor.

Speaker 6:

Hi, Governor. Just going back to the transparency issue, this isn't the first time your administration has initially refused to give out information and then decided, okay, we will release this COVID related information. I guess I'm curious, does your administration have some sort of transparency issue, where your leaders are saying no and then reversing course? Is that an effective way, during a pandemic?

Governor Bill Lee:

This pandemic is something that none of us faced before, and the issues around what to report and what not to report are all brand new. We also recognize that this is a health crisis and that privacy around personal information around someone's health is incredibly important. It's a real balance to determine how to protect that privacy, but at the same time to give transparency to folks that need to know. So these issues have been brought up, uniquely, for the first time, and we assess those and make determinations on them as we go along. I think we have moved toward transparency every time we can, starting with patient protection and privacy, and I think it's been a good process.

Speaker 6:

Talking about COVID liability, real quickly. I believe you just told WPLN that retroactivity is going to be part of the bill. There were several lawmakers who said on the house floor that such a measure is illegal and unconstitutional. In your mind, why is it legal to have a retroactive measure in this bill?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we believe the way that we've constructed this bill, it falls within the confines of the Constitution, so that makes it constitutionally sound. But that will be discussed by the legislature as we bring it. We'll deliver it, and then they will debate it and determine the exact language of the bill once it's done.

Speaker 6:

Okay. Thank you.

Speaker 7:

Good afternoon, Governor. You were pretty emphatic last week that schools needed to reopen, but the CDC says you've got to get the virus under control first. Dr. Birx says the same thing. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the same thing. So does a recent Harvard study. Do you have any independent scientific experts you can point to who tell you that now is the right time to reopen?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we know, as I said earlier, for example, that child abuse cases have dropped by 25% since kids have gotten out of the classroom. We suspect that child abuse hasn't dropped by 25%, but the number one reporting mechanism for child abuse is a teacher with eyes on the kids that they love, and teach, and serve. That's one clear piece of evidence, that a child in an unstable home is better in a classroom than they are out of the classroom.

Governor Bill Lee:

There are mental health services for children who have mental health needs, and those services are available primarily through the school. Many families don't have access to those services when their kid's not in the classroom, and mental health is a tremendous health need for our children. Those are just a couple of examples of the multiple documented reasons why kids fare well in a classroom setting. It's one of the reasons that we want to give parents an opportunity.

Governor Bill Lee:

What's important to remember here is, parents will have a choice. In every school district in Tennessee, if a parent doesn't feel safe for their child to go back into their school, they will have an option for online learning. We've made that available for every district in the state. So we do think it's important that kids get back in the classroom, but we also think it's important that parents have the option to choose whether or not they think that classroom is safe and what's best for their kid.

Speaker 7:

But all of the experts on the federal level say you've got to get the pandemic under control first before you can deal with those issues. Do you have a single scientific expert who tells you they are wrong?

Governor Bill Lee:

As I said, we have clear evidence-

Speaker 7:

But about getting the pandemic under control, sir.

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, to be clear, we have worked, and continue to work every day, to mitigate the spread of that pandemic in this state. We're encouraged by the numbers. We're encouraged by declining cases in our metro areas. We have sufficient healthcare capacity in our state. We have one of the lower, relative to the size of our state, deaths per capita in Tennessee. So we're working really hard to mitigate and to get this virus and then keep this virus under control in our state. So we think that it's important to provide a safe option for families to keep their kids out of school if they want them, but to provide in-school for those families who believe it's best for their kids.

Speaker 7:

But just to be clear, you don't have an expert you can point to who says now is the time to reopen?

Governor Bill Lee:

25% of child abuse cases in our state is a very clear reason that I believe that we should protect children in this state and get them back into the classroom, along with a number of other reasons that we think it's best for kids to go back to school.

Speaker 7:

About the special session, if school systems open in defiance of the federal health guidelines, why should they get liability protection?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, school districts have individual authority as to opening. We've given those school districts, and as you've seen, there are some in this state who are not opening in person today, but we also believe that because it's best for kids to be in the classroom and for schools to open, that we also need to provide them an environment that protects them against frivolous lawsuits, not only schools, but businesses, nonprofits, organizations, individuals [crosstalk 00:00:06:49].

Speaker 7:

This may be a question for Dr. Dyne, but it appears that testing capacity has dropped dramatically this week. If you do not have the ability to test, can you safely reopen schools?

Governor Bill Lee:

Dr. Dyne, I'll let you address it. My understanding is we have plenty of testing capacity. We have the ability to test. Our greatest challenge is in test turnaround time, but, can you add to that?

Dr. Dyne:

It's interesting with our perspective on testing. Back in may, we were very hopeful to get up around 5,000 to 6,000 tests a day, and per day. Over the last week or so, we've been averaging about 25,000 to 30,000 tests reported to the state per day. So we're still seeing high levels of testing. We're up over 10,000 tests reported for today's numbers, and we continue to monitor that with our commercial labs and with our state laboratory. We've been committed throughout the pandemic to making testing widely available. We think it's still a very important part of the response, so that we can identify cases, do isolation, identify their contacts, do monitoring. So we think we're in good shape with testing assets.

Chris:

Good afternoon, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Chris.

Chris:

With hundreds of thousands of Tennesseeans losing their federal $600 payment, is there any real discussions at the state level about what could be done with Washington dithering around on this? I mean, that's a real issue with affecting a whole bunch of folks.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. It is a real issue, and we certainly hope that the federal government comes together and makes a plan, develops a plan. At the state level, we're not discussing a bridge or filling in that gap. We don't have the resources to do that, but we do believe that, we do hope that the federal government will come together and develop a strategy going forward.

Chris:

And the second question, in respect to the First Amendment and balancing that with protestors and public property, with that third element that's part of the call of the special session, how is that balanced?

Governor Bill Lee:

You know, we've had a lot of protests. We've had protests of 10,000 people in our city that were peaceful, and that were managed well, and where there was no laws broken, no property defaced. We respect and appreciate the protection of the First Amendment in this state and in this country. It's part of what has made this country what it is today.

Governor Bill Lee:

We want to make sure that that ability to provide that protection for those who want to exercise their First Amendment right. that it is done so, and that it's done so peaceably, that it's done so without property damage, that it's done so with protection from law enforcement who are protecting protesters. That's how we balance that, and that's what the attempt will be going forward.

Speaker 8:

That's all the time we have Governor, if you'd like to close.

Governor Bill Lee:

Great. Thank you all for being here. I want to remind every Tennesseean that election day is Thursday. We need every Tennesseean to exercise their right to vote. Get out there, go to a polling place, make sure that you let your voice be heard in the ballot box. It's an important tradition, and not just a tradition, it's an important piece of this country and of sustaining this democracy.

Governor Bill Lee:

Maria and I voted early last week. We wore a mask. We encourage every Tennesseean to wear a mask when they go to the polling stations this Thursday, to protect not only themselves, but to protect those poll workers that are out there. You will not be turned away from a polling station for not wearing a mask, but we would encourage every one of you to do so, to make sure that we have safe elections. Not only free and fair, but also safe.

Governor Bill Lee:

So thank you for joining us today. Thursday, we'll have another briefing. Commissioner Schwinn will be here. We'll have a number of topics, but we'll be focusing on getting back to school. Thank you.