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August 6, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Thanks for joining us again today. Before we begin to talk about schools, I want to talk about an executive order that I signed today to honor the life of Debra Johnson, the 38 year veteran of the Department of Correction that tragically lost her life in the line of duty last year. Because of this executive order, the Tennessee Prison for Women will now be named the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center. To honor her legacy of service, the life changing work that she did with both inmates and her colleagues. While we continue to mourn the loss of Debra today, with this executive order we honor her life and her legacy.

Governor Bill Lee:

We're going to focus our time together today on the safe reopening of schools and the work that we're doing to ensure that our students receive a quality education here in the state. Commissioner Schwinn joined me and will be up in a moment to talk about next steps and what teachers and parents can expect. Reopening our schools and reinstating in person learning is the single greatest challenge that our state faces today and our administration takes this challenge very seriously. As the CDC notes, no other setting has more influence on a child's health and wellbeing than their school. That's especially true for low income students, for minority students, for students with disabilities who depend on the services and the stability that in-person learning provides.

Governor Bill Lee:

Our team of experts, that includes doctors, and pediatricians, and epidemiologists, and mental health experts, and teachers, and administrators, agree with the CDC, and with the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Academy of Sciences, and Engineering, and Medicine, that in-person learning is critical to the future of our state. Parents need predictability, teachers need support, and our kids deserve our whole- hearted effort to make sure that our 2021 school year is a success.

Governor Bill Lee:

So much of the conversation has been folk focused, rightly so, on the health and wellbeing of children. Academics and attainment are a very important part of the conversation as well. A recent study by Northwest Evaluation Association uncovered some very concerning trends with our kids. In the summer after third grade, kids lose on average 27% of their attainment that they received the year before in math. By the time kids are in the seventh grade, that loss equates to almost 50% of the attainment in math that they received in the year before.

Governor Bill Lee:

The longer our children are out of the classroom the more they lose. To put that in perspective, Tennessee currently ranks 25th in fourth grade math attainment. We're in the bottom half in eighth grade math attainment. While our kids have made tremendous efforts and our educators have done a significant level of work to move our kids forward in the last eight or nine years, we cannot regress. Times are uncertain for sure but the Department of Education is committed to providing teachers the tools they need to be sure that our kids get the quality education, especially in this time and particularly in a virtual setting.

Governor Bill Lee:

The Center for Reinventing Public Education notes that Tennessee is just one of 15 states that they assess have provided a strong academic plan to provide remote learning for students in combination with the in-person learning that we're putting in place. I want to commend Commissioner Schwinn and her team for setting high expectations for both in-person learning and for remote learning, to make sure that we work together in partnership with teachers and with the districts, to make sure that our kids again have a successful 2021 year.

Governor Bill Lee:

With that, Commissioner, I'll ask you to come up and make comments, and then we'll have a health report.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Thank you, Governor Lee, I appreciate the invitation. Hello, good afternoon. School reopening is upon us. As of today, we have about a third of the districts in the state of Tennessee who have opened. We'll have another third of districts that will open next week and about 20% that will open over the last two weeks of August. About half of our districts are opening full in-person with a remote option. We have 10 school districts who will be opening remote only, the remaining 43% of districts will have some version of hybrid. The good news is, is all of our districts have some version of remote learning for those families who need it but what we're finding is across the state, for the 50% of districts who are opening full in-person, about 20% of parents are choosing the remote option. The rest are choosing to send their children to school in-person and so that's the current status of school reopening here in the state of Tennessee.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

One of the things that we've been working on, and I think to the governor's point about focusing on high quality instruction for all students regardless of the seat that they are sitting in, is we've been working as a state on continuous learning plans. Now, these are plans that help outline what learning should look like in a remote setting, if a child is being educated in that way. I want to give a brief update on that because, again, wherever a child is sitting they do deserve the right to a high quality education and we are helping to make sure that that takes place.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Our districts have been working incredibly hard, we've received 222 plans as of this morning. 100% of our public charter schools have submitted plans and we have plans for about two-thirds of our school districts. The remaining one-third have an extension until the end of the month, based on their reopening plans. In all cases, approved plans demonstrate a high bar for the education they will be providing for their students. I want to commend both the superintendents as well as their district teams for putting so much time and energy into very creative solutions for what has been an unexpected year. They've been just working incredibly hard throughout the summer on these plans.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Last week, we talked a little bit about PPE and some of the resources that we are devoting as a state to help keep staff safe and healthy when they return to school buildings. I want to, again, thank the governor for investing $77 million in teacher kits. On top of that, there are nurse kits and we are excited to say school nutrition workers and additional staff will also receive critical supplies.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Now, this is on top of what we already expect our districts to be providing to their schools and to their district sites. We know they are doing that investment and working really closely with school sites to provide as much safety material and equipment as possible. Our teachers will receive masks, face guards, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer as well as gloves. Those initial supply kits are in process of being delivered, some have been delivered already. We have a single point of contact at every school who when supplies get low will be able to refill and restock and reorder. That way, all teachers and staff will have those critical materials throughout the school year.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Today ... And I want to thank TEMA. They've been phenomenal in making sure that that gets out very, very quickly. Today, though, we're here to talk about academics. We are very proud that we are one of a few states who have prioritized both the health and safety of those folks who are returning to school buildings, but also ensuring that we continue this very strong legacy in Tennessee of accelerated student achievement and growth.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Today we are launching Best For All Central. Best For All Central is an online academic tool and it will provide school leaders, educators, and families with a suite of academic resources to support student learning in any environment and context. First, their professional development resources. Now, we've talked a little bit about how we offered free principal professional development through the University of Tennessee at Knoxville as well as free teacher professional development through Trevecca throughout the summer.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

About half of our principals participated, we have over 20,000 teachers who participated, and those opportunities have continued through August. Best For All Central will add on top of that and it will offer things like preparing your distance learning classroom, ongoing teaching and learning and remediation supports in a distance learning environment, how to build relationships and communicate routines coming back from extended periods of closure. Those are additional resources we are providing to our educators and leaders across the state.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

In the coming weeks, we will also continue to add for things like whole child and child wellbeing supports as well as to pair professionals, et cetera. The tool also has a standards navigator. For those folks who get really wonky in education, it's a fun tool that you're able to navigate all of the Tennessee state standards, for parents to be able to understand what the expectations are with the standards, and then link those to actual assessment items that have been used previously on state tests.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

If you want to be able to support or check your child's growth at home, you can look up any standard and it will be able to, for math and English, connect to an actual assessment item to see how your child is progressing. Again, we want to make sure that families and educators have as much information as possible as we navigate this year together with our schools and our communities. These resources are available in math and in English language arts and we will have additional subject areas in the coming weeks.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Additionally, we have a series of instructional videos on the site. Those will be in ELA, math, and science, and we will have additional content areas added. Again, that is so families and educators are able to see an entire school year of instruction on video so that regardless of where the child is being educated and also because we know that teachers are going to be using some very, very interesting school models this year, they're going to have additional opportunities to provide remediation for in-person learning for those students who need it. This is a suite of resources that allows for greater flexibility, both at home and in the classroom.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

I want to say thank you to Hamilton County schools, Overton County schools, Fentress County schools, and Marshall County schools. The educators in those communities are providing a lot of the resources for these videos and we are offering additional grants to districts who want to submit additional videos. Again, this isn't just the Department of Education, these are superintendents and districts working together with the department to be able to produce resources for all of our educators and families to use across the state.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

The next site that we are launching today in partnership with Best For All Central is a family remote learning site. It's called Bridging the Distance, Family Remote Learning. I want to say a very special thank you to Trevecca University who has led this work and provided a pretty phenomenal resource for families. This is a tool to help families navigate the year, alongside their districts and schools, to best support their children and the needs of their own children. This will have a how to navigate learning. It has parents talking to other parents and teachers talking to parents, again, trying to get to that grain size where families can understand what the expectations are and what to expect as the school year progresses.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Some of the resources there include Remote Learning 101, Training for Parents. I'll say we have taken that in our house as well. It is always something that our families are looking for, how do we support our students and create a learning environment regardless of where they are, and how do we prepare students to go back into school when they've been out of school for so long? We know how critically important it is for them to get back in school buildings where the strongest learning can take place.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

It also has videos, as I said, from parents and teachers to one another, and supports for families with children with disabilities to help ensure that they receive the services necessary to continue to grow and progress. Finally, we have the Foundational Skills Curriculum Supplement. I think most of you know how critical literacy is to our youngest learners and how difficult it is to do that remotely. We know that with school building closures in the spring, too many of our students did not have access to really strong literacy instruction for, now, five plus months.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

The most effective literacy instruction does happen between a teacher and the student in the classroom, and so when we have larger gaps like we've had, now with school building closures, it becomes more important than other ever that we continue to support and promote effective literacy instruction. We have this free, completely free, online and optional resource and tool for families and educators to use, again, to support literacy instruction for our youngest learners and to make sure that if there are gaps that they're able to catch up, especially in these critical first months of school.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

Then finally, I'm very excited to announce that on top of the $50 million that Governor Lee has invested in technology, which purchased over 250,000 devices for students across the state of Tennessee, there is a $15 million grant that we are announcing for WiFi and MiFi. That pays for half a school year, it's a matching grant with districts for the device and for 100,000 households across the state to have access to WiFi and MiFi.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

We know how critically important it is for as many children as possible and, frankly, all children to have access to the internet. We know now more than ever that continues to be a critical resource so having 100,000 families, it closes the gap for most of those families who do not currently have access. We're very grateful for that investment to continue to invest in Tennessee. One of the things I just want to close with before I have a special greeting for our students who are starting school, is I have the great fortune of being able to work closely with 49 other state chiefs as well as territories across the country.

Comm. P. Schwinn:

We were very grateful to the federal government for investing $26 million that was set aside for the state agency through the ESSER funds. With all of the funds put together, we have almost 10 times that money for K through 12 education, and that's because we have a governor who invests in education. I know our districts are very grateful for that, especially as we reopen schools to those families and students who are starting. My two started yesterday, or the day before yesterday. Hang in there, it's going to be a great year and your superintendent in your districts have it under control and they're ready for you. Everyone's excited to see our students. The first day of school is the best day of the year and so we're just very, very glad and very, very grateful for everyone who's put in the hard work. With that, thank you very much.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you. My grandkids started school as well, in metro Nashville schools yesterday. So, I got to FaceTime them as they did their computer work. Dr. Pearcy you want to give your report please?

Dr. Pearcy:

Good afternoon. Thank you, governor. I will not restate the vast amount of information that the governor and commissioner Schwinn have just gotten through talking about. But I did want to give a few health highlights. We continue to work very closely in the department of health with the department of education, and quite frankly, commissioner Schwinn and I've been hip to hip for several weeks now. And I think we're making some good progress.

Dr. Pearcy:

We really want to remind ourselves, and you guys about what our role is here. Our role is to advocate for students, and to empower parents, and to support teachers and to assist districts. And that's why we've been working diligently to make sure we have appropriate guidance in to answer any question that comes up, and there will be some unanticipated ones, and we're trying to pre-empt those as well. But we appreciate everyone's support and their patience as we're working through this. As already has been mentioned today, the benefits of in-classroom learning go well beyond educational needs. There's physical health, there's nutritional health, social and emotional wellbeing. And quite frankly, also child safety.

Dr. Pearcy:

All of these are important reasons for kids to be back in the classroom. But the utmost importance is for parents to have a choice. And as commissioner Schwinn noted, there are lots of districts and lots of parents who have made that option. And we support that. Because as a pediatrician and as a parent, I know that there is no better person who knows the child more deeply, and knows his or her needs and desires more than the parent. And so, we think it's really important for the parent to have that choice.

Dr. Pearcy:

And moving onto more medical health things and outside of schools. I wanted to give you an update on testing. You may have noticed over the last several days that our case counts are down, but our testing numbers are also down, as well. We've seen that trend here in Tennessee. It's not dramatic, but it is noticeable. We've seen it here in Tennessee. And there was a report yesterday that it's down nationally, maybe more than three and a half percent.

Dr. Pearcy:

We think there are a few reasons for that. Fortunately, the best reason of all is we think there are less people getting sick. And the reason we think that is the case, is because if you look at what's called our CLI, COVID-like index curve, it's under our tab called syndromic surveillance, which is a really big word, but it really monitors the number of people that are being seen in emergency departments for COVID-like symptoms. We also have, and have had for several years, an influenza-like illness curve. And so, you'll see both of those on our website. And for the last several weeks we have seen a downturn in that. So, we do think there are less people getting sick. That's really good news.

Dr. Pearcy:

However, there are a couple of other things that may be driving that lower testing demand that may not be such great news. One of them is maybe neutral, not necessarily negative, we are prioritizing screening and lab throughput based on symptomatic people. Now, I want to remind you at any local health department, you can still get tested, symptoms or not. But many providers, clinics and labs are prioritizing symptomatic people. So, that may result in some lower testing numbers than we've had. And probably the thing that's most concerning, and if this applies to you, I want you to listen closely, because it's very important that you not let them this get you down. I think there are some people that are avoiding testing because of the delays in lab processing that we've had. Again, not specific to Tennessee it's happening nationally. But my fear is that some people are having some symptoms, perhaps even mild, and they don't get tested because they're dissuaded by the long turnaround time.

Dr. Pearcy:

I want to take this opportunity to remind you how critically important it is that you get tested if you have any COVID symptoms, or if you've been exposed, and are not feeling well. It's critically important that you do that, so we can make sure we know who's positive and be able to mitigate the spread. One more note on that, wanted to give you a brief update on the actual lab turnaround time. It is still hovering just North of three days. But we are starting to see some glimmers of hope in throughput. We're starting to hear reports from specific labs, as well as specific clinics and hospitals, that the turnaround is getting a little bit faster, and that their backlogs are clearing out. And I know this has been the result of a tremendous effort of our labs, as well as our providers. And I want to continue to acknowledge and thank them for that.

Dr. Pearcy:

And finally, it's been a while since we've talked about it. So, I wanted to give you a little refresher on isolation versus quarantine. I hope you never have to use this advice, but if you do, I want you to make sure you're following appropriate guidance. We hear the terms isolation, and quarantine being thrown around a lot interchangeably. They actually mean different things, and they are for different categories of people.

Dr. Pearcy:

Isolation is what you do when you've been diagnosed. It's when you're sick, and by and large, it's 10 days. It's 10 days from the time of symptom onset. And after 10 days, if your symptoms are better and you've been fever free for at least 24 hours. You're good to go. If you never develop symptoms in the first place and you're asymptomatic, it's just 10 days from the date of the test. Now, here's the tricky part that really trips up a lot of people.

Dr. Pearcy:

It's a pretty common desire, and myth that you need a test at the end of that to make sure you quote, "test negative." That is absolutely not recommended. That is not needed. In fact, the CDC actively discourages you, if you have had a positive tests within the last three months, to not be retested. Unless you have extreme circumstances, or perhaps a new illness. So, when people get tested unnecessarily, that contributes not only to the backlog in the lab, but it also contributes to the time that they're out of the workforce, they're out of school, perhaps out of earning income. So, it's really important after those 10 days, go back to work, go back to school, as long as you're feeling well.

Dr. Pearcy:

Now, contrast that with quarantine. So, that was isolation. Let's talk about quarantine. And a lot of people use quarantine to talk about what they do after they get sick. That's technically not the right term, but we'll let it slide. But for quarantine, that's what you do after you've been exposed to a confirmed case. Brings up an opportunity to talk about what exposure really means. And that is close contact. It is not passing by somebody at the front desk. It's not meeting someone in the hall, or seeing somebody from across the room. It's defined as less than six feet, for 10 minutes or more. So, common ways that, that close contact happens. If you share a meal with someone, or hang out at a party with someone, go to a business meeting and sit near them, or ride in a car together, that defines close contact. If you've been exposed to somebody within that close contact realm, you need to quarantine at home for 14 days.

Dr. Pearcy:

What I'm about to say may surprise a lot of you, but it's really important. You do not need to be tested during that time, unless you develop symptoms. We hear it a lot, and it's a normal and natural response. But the common thought is, "Well, I'll wait five or six days, and then I'll get tested. And if I'm negative I'll go back to work, or school or whatever." There is no way you can quote, "test your way out of quarantine." It's 14 days. And that is because that is the incubation period of that virus. It likely will show up much sooner than that, but in some people it could take the entire 14 days. If after those 14 days, you don't develop symptoms, again, good to go. You do not have to have a test at the end of that quarantine. And you do not have to have any kind of special assessment to clear you from that. After the 14 days, if you're still well, you're able to go back to work, school, your normal activities.

Dr. Pearcy:

So, again, I hope none of you ever have to use either of those, but if you do, I want you to have the best guidance. Thanks.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thanks to both of y'all. A lot of information. I'm sure there are a lot of questions, so why don't we get right to them?

Speaker 1:

Good afternoon. My first question is for Dr. Pearcey-

Governor Bill Lee:

What don't you two just stay up here? [inaudible]

Speaker 1:

Is there an update at all on how you will collect data for COVID-19 in schools? I know for instance, I was just looking at some data and I noticed North Carolina, for instance, they do it twice a week, Tuesday, and I believe Friday, and it looked at clusters in schools and in daycare. So is there an update on how you guys will actually do that? And then my second question is for the education commissioner. In terms of MiFi and WiFi, I know that that's great news that's going to be distributed to kids, but do we know how it's going to be distributed? We all know most likely low income, rural communities, people of color often are disenfranchised. So is there a way that you guys are going to distribute that to those communities that need it the most? Thank you.

Dr. Pearcy:

So on the question of data reporting. First, I want to take just a moment to clarify. I made a statement last week that was seemingly misinterpreted that we're not going to track it at all. That's not an accurate way to assess that. What we were referencing was public facing reporting. Obviously we track every case in the state and contact trace and investigate clusters just as we normally would. But as it pertains to public reporting, which I think maybe the terms just got mixed up, as it pertains to public reporting, that has been a hot topic of discussion, both within our administration, as well as commissioner Schwinn referenced with a lot of the education chiefs that she's been talking to nationally. We're working on that plan. I believe the governor mentioned on Tuesday that we would have that ready within about a week. So we anticipate being able to give you an update on that early to mid next week.

Commissioner Schwinn:

So first of all, thank you for asking about that. I think it's one of the issues that we talk a lot about within education communities. And I think it's really highlighting some of the needs that we can use this time to fill. So yes, so districts will have equal opportunity to the devices, but it will be prioritized for those families who need it. We know that right now, districts are using some of their federal relief funds, as well as some of the initial investments from the department of education to purchase those for families who don't currently have access at home. That tends to be families who are either low income, many of our urban and rural families, and then I think a larger proportion as you said, of children of color. And so we are seeing that will fill most of those needs statewide for those districts who choose to participate.

Commissioner Schwinn:

It is a reimbursement grant similar to the technology grant we announced earlier. So districts who are purchasing both the actual box, as well as the service for a year, the department will essentially pay for half of the cost of that districts, then match funds again. Again that opens up and frees up more funds for more devices and more supports for students. But again, a 100000 households, most of those households have multiple children who will now have internet access. We think it's incredibly important not just to address the pandemic, but frankly, for children to have access to that regularly. So we're very excited about that. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Hi governor, can you react to the Supreme court ruling yesterday that will restrict absentee voting in the era coronavirus? And if we are allowing approximately 20% of parents to keep their kids home from school to avoid exposure to the virus, why would the state require voters? Many of whom are older and therefore more vulnerable to physically go to the polls to cast votes.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, it's really important obviously that people have the opportunity to get out there and vote. What the Secretary of State's done through his office and I think that's what the court's recognized, is that they worked really hard to create a safe environment, so that poll workers, so that folks that go to the polls can do so safely and can feel confident. There are a vast list of reasons why you can vote absentee, why you can vote absentee and when you should be able to vote absentee, I think that's how the court made their decision was based on what they felt was appropriate to give folks the opportunity to vote, but do it in a safe way.

Speaker 2:

You feel it was the right decision?

Governor Bill Lee:

I do.

Speaker 2:

Did you vote [inaudible].

Governor Bill Lee:

I voted early last week.

Speaker 3:

This question is either for the Governor or Commissioner Schwinn. It seems that the remote learning materials and the WiFi's or MiFi's are going to be really useful for families. But with those funds, there's a lot of districts that are having issues, getting actual physical, MiFis and laptops. Metro Nashville schools won't have all of their laptops until November. So what can the state do to help get physical laptops in front of kids to ensure that they're getting 180 days of quality instruction?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Yeah so we are aware across the countries you can imagine everyone's at a race for the laptops. One of the things that we did do, is we did do a state negotiated contract in February. As soon as we saw one of the first cases hit, which has actually allowed for those districts who have purchased off the state contract, get to get earlier access.

Commissioner Schwinn:

It essentially bumps them up in the queue. So we have seen that many of our districts have been able to get laptops for that reason. So we do have some districts, as you noted locally, who purchased on their own contracts and there have been delays in shipments. Those usually extend to August, September. We have heard of some of those last delays going until October and November. But again, what I would say is that the majority of our districts we're going back in person. We want to make sure every single student has access to a quality instruction. So for those districts who are relying on laptops, either because parents have chosen to educate their children in a remote environment, or because we do have those 10 districts who are educating their children in a remote environment, we are encouraging creative solutions. So things like those laptops and computers that are currently sitting in classrooms, we know some districts are sending those home.

Commissioner Schwinn:

There are also alternative devices that we are suggesting you can invest in that are ready when you think about tablets, for example, younger students can usually navigate those pretty well with what the curriculum and instruction suggests. So we're working closely. We've also told districts that we have a concierge service, so they can actually call our IT department and get one on one support on some of the solutions that are also available.

Speaker 3:

Are you guys concerned about the students who don't have laptops and school started this week so they're basically sitting at home not having access for a week?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Absolutely. Every single student in the state by statute and I think just by our own responsibility and obligation to them, is entitled to 180 days of instruction. We passed it. The state board passed 6.5 hours in a remote environment for first through 12th, for kindergarten, they are entitled to those minutes of instruction.

Commissioner Schwinn:

And we know for those students who don't have internet access and who don't have devices at home, oftentimes are experiencing achievement gaps as it is. And so if they are not getting that access or they don't have that access, it is the responsibility of the district and of the state to find solutions, to ensure that they do not fall farther behind. We know how hard it is to catch up. And we just don't have time to waste on a child's education.

Speaker 3:

My other question was for Dr. Pearcy. As you noted, you guys are tracking all cases. So you know that at least a dozen, maybe two dozen school districts have already reported cases connected to staff sessions, students. Is that expected and is it alarming?

Dr. Pearcy:

So I have said for weeks now we know there will be cases in schools. Many of them came early. And so you'll remember the one from Alcoa city schools, just the first or second day of school. Clearly that wasn't school transmission, but there will be in-school transmission. We know that that's going to happen. We also know that the risk of not being in classroom can be devastating and lifelong, as well. And so that's why we're not surprised by it. We knew that was going to happen. We have strong mitigation processes in place. Commissioner Schwinn is helping districts through all of those rubrics. We've been assisting her department with that. And so, not alarmed because we know what's going to happen.

Joe:

Thank you. Hi governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Sorry, Joe.

Joe:

Happy election day. You told the tenancy and that you voted- [crosstalk].

Governor Bill Lee:

It's not my Election day.

Joe:

Sorry?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm glad it's not my election day.

Joe:

You are right there. You told my colleague from the tenancy that you voted early, but I didn't hear you say who you voted for in the Republican Senate Primary. Do you want to share with us, who you voted for?

Governor Bill Lee:

I would just say that I'm certain that any number of candidates will be good. We'll be good representatives for us. So no, I'm not sharing who I voted for.

Joe:

Are you sure?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sure.

Joe:

All right. So I have to ask. Also wanted to ask you about-

Governor Bill Lee:

You didn't really want to waste your question on that, did you?

Joe:

I really also wanted to ask either Commissioner Schwinn or Commissioner Pearcy about contact sports. We know those have resumed, but we also have seen reports that in Greenville high school and middle school, there's already been a couple of positive cases in the middle school and high school related to sports teams. How can you ensure that kids are safe, but also having these, participation with these contact sports, where people could have close contact?

Governor Bill Lee:

You want answer?

Dr. Pearcy:

Let me preface this by saying like any good Southern woman, I love football just as much as anybody else does. But talk about a higher risk activity. It's higher risk than sitting in a classroom, when you are sweating and hitting people in a contact sport. We also know that sports are crucial to people's wellbeing, mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing. And so what we tried to do with the sports guidelines is make it to where they can participate in the safest manner possible. But I'll remind you just like within classroom learning, you don't have to do it. And I think we've seen some reports lately of some athletes opting out for a season and that's perfectly acceptable as well if you don't want to bear that additional risk.

Dr. Pearcy:

I am pleased with how the guidelines turned out. And I think it does allow for sort of the safest manner possible, both for participants and for spectators. And if you haven't seen it, I encourage you to look at the 1918 photo. I think it was Georgia Tech, where they had a football game and every spectator in the stands had a mask on. And so that's how they dealt with that pandemic. I'd like to say we're a lot more sophisticated than then, but our fans will need to wear masks in stadiums this year to, to keep themselves safe as well.

Joe:

And commissioner we've seen that today, the state is reporting 42 deaths. Are you guys seeing a shift in deaths in the rural areas? We know that those areas have seen more cases recently.

Dr. Pearcy:

So if you'll allow me let me give you a few comments on that death rate. Today, you're correct. 42 is the highest number that we've had. But I want you to know that that should be kept in context. If you look back at Saturday and Sunday, they were seven and six, which are some of the lowest days we've ever had. But because we have differences in time lags, you need to look at it over time, seven days, 14 days, whatever you want, but look at it as an average. Now, no doubt about it. Our average is going up, but death is the most lagging indicator that we have, which means the deaths won't start showing up until two or three weeks after the surge in cases. Remember about weeks ago, we had some really, really high numbers. And so what we're seeing is deaths come from them, we know that death takes place an average of 12 to 13 days after onset of illness.

Dr. Pearcy:

And then it takes another three, five, sometimes seven days to get the death certificate finalized and get it reported to the state. So the people that were reported today were likely sick three weeks ago, and then hospitalized two weeks ago and could have died up to a week ago. What I want you to remember is there were not 42 people that have died in the last 24 hours. So when you look at that on the whole, as an average, our average daily death rate has been plus or minus about 11. It's going to go up. I mean, if you look at the last seven days, just some rough math over in my chair over there is about 20 plus or minus. And so we were watching that trend go up and we know that deaths will go up as case counts go up. And so we're starting to see that because it's a lagging indicator of what happened a few weeks ago.

Dr Pearcy:

To your point about rural, it's happening everywhere. The rural cases are going up. We know our population in rural areas have higher comorbidities and are oftentimes an older population. So we expect the deaths there to be at least commensurate, if not higher.

Joe:

Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 4:

Yes. I know you said you had voted early for this election. Have you ever, considering all the talk about absentee balloting and litigation, have you ever taken advantage of early voting-

Governor Bill Lee:

Absentee voting?

Speaker 4:

Yes. Excuse me. For absentee balloting.

Governor Bill Lee:

I don't recall voting absentee. I'm 60. So I voted a bunch of times, but I don't recall voting absentee. I think mostly just... I may have voted absentee in college, but I don't remember.

Speaker 4:

Right. And when you were in Alabama?

Governor Bill Lee:

In the state of Alabama.

Speaker 4:

Not the University of Alabama.

Governor Bill Lee:

That's correct.

Speaker 4:

I guess one of my questions though, it looks like turnout is really just a trickle today in Metro Nashville. And also, I believe it's kind of pretty slow in Memphis too, Shelby County. Considering all the talk about absentee balloting, why didn't the state just go ahead and make a big push during this pandemic to make it more accessible and just go along with all these people that have brought litigation against the state, instead of fighting it in an effort to make it easier for people to stay at home and vote? And so they wouldn't have to worry about going to the polling places, wearing a mask and going through all of that.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. I've talked to the Secretary of State about what is the plan... He's been working on this for months and months and we've seen states that have used significant online voting. I mean, absentee voting that have had significant problems because of the massive increase that they had in their absentee voting. So there're problems with whatever strategy you take. I think the Secretary of State has done a great job of planning for this. There haven't been long lines. I talked to him about the voter turnout today, considering the type of election that it is. It's not unusually low. Don't know what the turnout is going to be yet, but I would just say, I think the Secretary of State and his office and the direction of the state has taken the right approach to this. And it's been a good outcome so far.

Speaker 4:

But how can the outcome be good if it's just a trickle at the polls?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think he's expecting somewhere between 600,000 to 800,000, maybe 800,000 or more vote in this election today and in an off cycle election with no gubernatorial, no presidential, no County mayors, no sheriffs, we expect there to be a lower turnout in an election like this. We'll just have to see what the numbers are when they're done.

Speaker 4:

Okay.

Speaker 5:

Hey, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Johnson.

Speaker 5:

I won't accuse you of being an Alabama Alum or ask you who you voted for or anything. Hamilton County, you said yesterday, that there was an exposure at the Lincoln Day Dinner. There were hundreds of people were there. A lot of them weren't wearing masks. You didn't attend, but just kind of curious, what has your criteria been for deciding whether to go to political events or not where, Republican events have been largely unmasked, especially for the campaigns and that sort of thing? And then my second question is for Dr. Pearcy have there been outbreaks or issues from campaign or political events that have been significant?

Governor Bill Lee:

So my criteria for any event, and I certainly don't travel as much as I have in the past and I don't attend nearly as many events as I have in the past, but when I do attend an event, I do everything I can to make sure that I'm safe and that I'm not a potential threat to somebody else. So, wherever I go, whatever I do, I distance and wear masks. And if I don't believe that I can do that in that environment, then I generally am not there. If I can't protect myself with a mask, which I do, then I won't be there, but I have a mask all the time now and wear it most everywhere I go. So, that's my criteria.

Speaker 5:

Have you skipped out on political events? You don't have to tell me specific ones because of concerns-

Governor Bill Lee:

No, I haven't skipped them. I mean, I have not attended nearly as many events as I had before because we're not traveling nearly like we used to, but no, I haven't missed events because of any reason, other than it's not in our scheduling. And you had a question for Dr. Pearcy?

Dr. Pearcy:

Yeah. Related to clusters or outbreaks in political events, I am not aware of any other than the one that you mentioned. I read about it in the lay media, but we have not tracked any to my knowledge from any of the events that have taken place in the last few months.

Speaker 5:

Thank you.

Speaker 6:

Hello, Governor. You say you're following the CDC guidelines, but the CDC guidelines say, if someone in a classroom tests positive, then everyone in that classroom should be tested and quarantined. Your plan does not follow the CDC guidelines. You said last week, it was because of a lack of testing capacity. If we do not have the capacity to follow CDC guidelines, how can we safely reopen schools?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we follow the guidelines to the extent that we think that's possible. The turnaround time in [crosstalk] testing obviously creates a real challenge for congregate settings like schools. So, we're developing with the resources and the limitations that we have, we're developing the best strategy to go forward, accepting and following the CDC guidelines to the degree that we can, to make sure that we provide as much safety as possible when we provide in-person schooling.

Speaker 6:

And I guess I'll return to my question, if you do not have the ability to follow CDC guidelines, how can you say you are safely reopened at school?

Governor Bill Lee:

The CDC also says that the best way for kids to learn that we should have in-person learning. That's their guidance as well.

Speaker 6:

I'm talking about testing capacity.

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry.

Speaker 6:

I'm talking about testing everyone who is in the class.

Governor Bill Lee:

So, they give a number of guidelines. And as I said, we follow to the degree that it's at all possible, we follow guidelines to move forward with what we think is best for our state.

Speaker 6:

And then I have a quick question for Dr. Pearcy. You mentioned an average of three days turnaround time. What's the range? I mean, because three days is the average, but what are the outliers?

Dr. Pearcy:

Sure. Yeah, that's a fair question. And before I answer that, I just want to reiterate that that's three days in the lab. There's transport time on the front end and there's reporting time on the backhand. So in reality, it's more than three days, but that's how we measure it because that's how we measure apples to apples with the labs. The labs can't really control how long it takes people to get the samples to them.

Dr. Pearcy:

The range is anywhere from a half day to seven or eight or nine days. We have seen reports as long as 11 and 12 days. Not so much in the last couple of weeks, but the shortest turnaround times are typically the hospitals that run their own on their own patients. And that's of utmost importance because the patients are in the hospital, they need quick results. And so that's where our fastest ones are coming from. And then the larger labs in the state, including the state public health lab are in the two to four day range. And then the big national labs, the LabCorp and Quest are still dealing with a lot of backlog. They're closer to the six to eight day range.

Speaker 6:

Would you agree with other experts who say that test results 11 and 12 days out, maybe longer, are virtually useless?

Dr. Pearcy:

Absolutely. They're useless. If it takes that long to get a test result back, we can't do appropriate tracing. We can't do appropriate isolation or quarantine as it were, we just talked about. And so it is a significant detriment to our efforts to have extended turnaround times like that. That's why we're so motivated to change them.

Speaker 6:

So, are we failing those Tennesseans?

Dr. Pearcy:

I think Tennesseans have really stepped up and particularly Tennessee labs. You'll remember early in this, it was one of our critical key success factors in the testing ramp up that we had back in April and May. Our commercial private labs in Tennessee really stepped up to the plate and they wanted to build their business and they've got them built now. And so now they're trying to scale to match that and they have literally bent over backwards. Many of them are operating 24 hours a day or working towards that as are we in the state lab using expensive contract staff, trying to pay extra for equipment to get there sooner. And so they're really doing everything they can. As Commissioner Schwinn referenced on the devices, there's a national competition, if you will, for supplies and equipment. And so I think our Tennessee labs are doing a great job and are really ticking away at that turnaround time. Thanks.

Governor Bill Lee:

Let me add, do you feel that we have used that lab reporting data to determine, and to provide guidance and advice on where to direct whether to use this lab or that lab? So it's been helpful while there's a widespread national problem. That information that we have allows us to direct test to labs that have shorter times than longer times.

Dr. Pearcy:

Yes.

Speaker 7:

Governor, the legislature recently appointed a study committee to review the powers of the executive branch during a state of emergency. I wondered if you'd had any conversation with legislative leadership before that committee was appointed?

Governor Bill Lee:

I haven't spoken to them at all. Some of the legislators that I speak to that are on that committee, but not about the work of that committee at all.

Speaker 7:

Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you.

Speaker 8:

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

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you all. A lot of information, a lot of great questions. Thanks for, as I say, disseminating information that's valuable to people of Tennessee in the midst of an incredibly challenging, but hopeful day. And I got a lot of questions about elections. Remember everyone, it is election day. You still have, looks like three hours or so to get out to the polls. There are not long lines so we understand, so exercise your right to engage with the government and get your vote. And by the way, if you haven't been to the polls yet, you're going to go after work or this afternoon, please wear a mask.

Governor Bill Lee:

It's not required at a polling booth, but we certainly believe that it's essential for you to provide for your own safety and especially to provide for the safety of those poll workers that are out there. I want to commend those poll workers that are out there today, working with their PPE and making sure that their polling stations are safe. And I also thank Secretary Of State Tre Hargett for his hard work. This is a big day for that office. They've worked for months to make sure that we have a free and fair, and in this pandemic, safe election. So thank you all.