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July 14, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you for joining us for our update this week. Before I get into the COVID-19 details and other things, I want to say just a word about the historic pro-life piece of legislation that I signed yesterday. It's a comprehensive bill that protects the most vulnerable in our state, and it is a reflection of the partnership of legislative leadership, specifically, Senator Gresham, Representative Lynn, Leader Lambert, Leader Johnson, Speaker Sexton, Lieutenant Governor McNally, and many members of the legislature who worked to get this done. There's a legal challenge that's disheartening, but we'll defend it in court because the lives of precious Tennesseans are worth defending, and we'll do so.

Governor Bill Lee:

Onto COVID-19, about a month ago, we released and we announced a $200 million program that would provide funding for our businesses here in Tennessee. It's CARES Act funding that will go directly to Tennessee businesses through our Tennessee Business Relief Program. This direct support of our small businesses reflects the importance that our businesses here in Tennessee play in our economy, and while COVID has had a tremendous health impact, it's also had a tremendous economic impact in our state, and this program is reflective of the need to help those particular businesses, especially those that were closed through the Safer at Home order.

Governor Bill Lee:

The Department of Revenue's in charge of the distribution of these payments, and these payments, as I said, will be made to those businesses that were closed through the Safer at Home. 33,000 Tennessee businesses have been identified as eligible for the Tennessee Business Relief Program. The department has sent communication to every single one of these businesses to let them know that they're eligible and to request that they provide up to date information about their companies, so I encourage every Tennessee business to go online to the TNTAP portal at Department of Revenue, certify the information so we can get checks out to those who need it the most as soon as possible. Those checks have already begun to be distributed, so we're very encouraged about the progress of this program so far.

Governor Bill Lee:

While we know that COVID-19 has done tremendous economic harm to businesses across our state, we want to remind Tennessee businesses about the importance of the Tennessee Pledge, especially as we identify more cases of COVID-19 in our state. Our economic recovery group has provided significant resource of best practices for doing business in almost every industry. Whether it's the restaurant industry, retail industry, media production, there is information for almost any business in our state on how it is that they can operate safely for their employees and for their customers. It's simple actions that people can take, like continuing to work from home when possible and social distancing and temperature screenings and mask wearing, things that can make those companies safe for all Tennesseans. if you own a business and particularly if you are set to receive funds through the program we talked about earlier, the Tennessee Business Relief Program, you'll be getting reminders about the Tennessee Pledge, and we hope that you will remind your team and your staff and your folks about how engaging in the Tennessee Pledge is so important for the ongoing movement of Tennessee's economy. Look at the guidelines on tnpledge.gov and engage.

Governor Bill Lee:

Now, many businesses can do their part in making a safe environment. It's really up to you and me and the individuals across Tennessee to play a role in making it safe in our state, including, for example, wearing masks. I wear a mask when I go out. I wear a mask to the office every day. Maria and I wear a mass to events. It's something that we believe is important to protect not only our family, my 87-year-old mom, but the people that we come in contact with every day.

Governor Bill Lee:

There's been an awful lot of political talk about masks. I just want to say something. This mask right here is not conservative. It's not liberal. Shaming someone for wearing a mask or shaming someone for not wearing a mask, it's just not something that Tennesseans ought to be in the business of doing. It's a simple personal decision that just might save an elderly person's life in this state. It just might be the difference in being able to keep a business open in Tennessee, and while it's a habit that none of us particularly enjoy probably, and that while we're developing, I want to encourage Tennesseans to err on the side of graciousness to one another when it comes to shaming around masks. I want every Tennessean to also consider the magnitude that a simple action can have and protecting our citizens and protecting our economy as well.

Governor Bill Lee:

Our economic recovery group, with the help of more than 50 partners across the state, including partners like the Titans and the Grizzlies and ... Ah, there we go. Our mask models, Firestone, that these partners have provided branded, washable masks at very low cost. While it might not be something that all of us enjoy doing, wearing a mask, it's kind of fun to wear one that has something on it that you kind of like as these models are showing today. Thank you very much for doing that.

Governor Bill Lee:

My mask today, by the way, is a shout out to all the friends in Northeast Tennessee at the world's fastest half mile, the last great Colosseum at Bristol. I'm going to wear this at the Bristol Motor Speedway tomorrow night for NASCAR's All-Star Race, the first outdoor sports activity that we'll have in our state, and I want to talk about outdoor sports in Tennessee. Thank y'all. I want to talk about the return of live sports in Tennessee and what it means to us, how we can be smart about it. Tomorrow night, Bristol will host the NASCAR All-Star Race with fans in a very limited capacity that will have social distancing for the fans that are in attendance. Masks will be required. We did site testing in advance of the race for those that are in the community that might be working at the race track.

Governor Bill Lee:

I want to give special thanks to Ballad Health and to Eastman for donating thousands of masks to the local community in preparation for this. NASCAR has been a great partner to us, and they've worked with us to develop what we believe will be a safe opportunity that can be a model for the country to watch how it is that we can return to safe live sports in the fall, something that I think most of us hope that we will be able to do and do it safely.

Governor Bill Lee:

I understand that many Tennesseans are growing weary of the pandemic, and so am I. It's hard to believe that we've been dealing with COVID-19 for 127 days. Seems like a lot longer than that, but the last four months have taught us a whole lot as we navigate through this to work through the crisis and reclaim parts of life in our community that we want to reclaim in the midst of a pandemic. I want to share a couple of encouraging hot points about the changes from the beginning of this to where we are today.

Governor Bill Lee:

At the beginning of the pandemic, the whole country faced a shortage of personal protective equipment that made it very difficult for us to protect frontline workers and even ourselves against the COVID-19, but our state's been very aggressive in our procurement efforts, finding ways to procure gowns and masks and gloves. We have shipped over six million pieces of PPE to all corners of our state, and we continue to build reserves in PPE for the future, so we're in a good spot with regard to PPE. Those six million pieces, by the way, don't include the more than four million free masks that we shipped out to Tennesseans across the state. So PPE is in a very different place than it was when we started.

Governor Bill Lee:

We also started this pandemic with a very strained testing system, with limited supplies about how to get tests. There are many states that still only test for symptomatic cases, but in Tennessee, anyone can get a test. We tested over a million Tennesseans to date, and at the beginning of this pandemic, we were fortunate to process just a few hundred a day because of the supplies that were there in the country.

Governor Bill Lee:

Now, it's a reality to all of us that some in our state are going to become very sick, and we know that we've lost many tenancies to this pandemic, but from the beginning to now, there's also been a real change in the way we approach this clinically. In the last few months, the federal government shipped more than 8,000 doses of remdesivir to our state. Those have been distributed throughout the health systems in Tennessee to make sure that those who need that lifesaving medication the most will get it. There are a lot of improvements in our clinical approach to COVID. Dr. Piercey will talk a little bit more about that when she gives her report, but I just want to encourage folks where we are today is much different than where we were before. As we see rises in the number of cases, it's important to remember those differences, especially as we get approach getting back to school.

Governor Bill Lee:

We'll talk a little bit about school reopening. We're working every day to prepare schools to reopen, and Commissioner Schwinn is now serving on our unified command group as we recognize that school opening and COVID-19 response are very intertwined. Parents need a level of predictability. We all know that. As we move toward August, and our goal continues to be in-person learning for as many kids as possible in this state, local decision making is going to be crucial to the success of the school year. We are working with, very hard every day, local districts to help them provide them with resources and the information that'll help them make the decisions that are most that are most appropriate for the situation on the ground and their individual districts. We're in process of much of the decision making around school reopening. A lot of those decisions have yet to be made, but they're in process of being made. We'll have a lot more to say about that next week. Dr. Piercey, would you come up and give a health report, please?

Dr. Piercey:

Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. I'll give you a warning that my comments today are somewhat technical, so I'll try to go through them slowly, because I think it's an important distinction. I'm going to talk to you about how to interpret some of the numbers. We have so many numbers coming at us, and as the governor mentioned, we have a lot more numbers now than we did 120 days ago, which I agree feels like about 120 months ago. So let me get started with this.

Dr. Piercey:

I want to start today by providing you some clarification about some of these numbers that you see every day. As I mentioned, I recognize there are a lot of them, but you may need a little bit of background information to know how to appropriately sort through them all. Additionally, some numbers like the case count we saw yesterday, can carry sticker shock with them if you don't know how to interpret them. So, first I want to highlight the important context surrounding the daily case counts. While the overall raw numbers of cases can be startling, I encourage you to consider it not only in the context of averages and trends, but also in the positivity rate sometimes called the attack rate to control for the variability and the increases in testing.

Dr. Piercey:

You may have noticed, and if you haven't noticed already, start looking for it, because we've certainly noticed that our case counts tend to be front loaded at the beginning of the week. A perfect example of this, if you remember on Sunday, our case count was 954, and then yesterday on Monday it was 3,300. This has more to do with batch reporting of labs versus an actual specific daily increase. So because of that, I encourage you to do like we do and look at those rolling averages or trends over time. Now, having said that you can't ignore the fact that yesterday we realized there were 3,300 new people out there circulating in the community that have the virus. So, that is concerning to us, but I encourage you to keep it in context.

Dr. Piercey:

Likewise, you should interpret these overall case counts in the context of the number of tests that were reported on that day. That gets back to that positivity rate or attack rate that I just referenced. Yesterday's positivity rate was 9.2%, because we performed or reported 36,000 tests. This positivity rate when tracked over time helps us to control for that fluctuating number of test reported. Indeed, our positivity rate has trended up over the last 30 days or so, but it's hanging out in around that plus or minus 9% range, which is relatively stable and reassuring.

Dr. Piercey:

Lastly, pertaining to interpretation of these commonly reported numbers, let me talk to you a bit about hospitalization rates and hospital capacity. As expected, as our overall numbers have gone up, so have hospitalizations. Today, we have approximately 870 hospitalized patients statewide with a COVID-19 diagnosis. Fortunately, our ICU rates and our ventilator rates, even though they've trended up, the rate of rise in those curves is not as steep as that in hospitalization. As the governor mentioned, that is a credit to the things that we've learned over the last several months. In no small part, one of those is ventilator treatment protocols. I may have referenced this before, but it's a little bit different in this disease process than in others.

Dr. Piercey:

In many respiratory conditions, when we're taking care of hospitalized patients, we want to give their lungs rest, and we want to get them on respiratory support or ventilator pretty quickly. We have learned over the last several months, not just here locally, but everywhere, that COVID patients tend to do better if you can keep them off the ventilator. So number of ventilated patients have gone down. I shouldn't say go down, they have flattened out more so than the hospitalization curve. The other thing that the governor mentioned that has helped with this is our remdesivir use. Remdesivir is a promising drug that is used in the sickest of the sick. It is not necessarily appropriate for outpatient use right now, but for, on those patients who are in the ICU and the ventilator, remdesivir has been a pretty big game changer.

Dr. Piercey:

The federal government has been allocating us some of those doses and we're in the process throughout the month of July and into August for that product to be commercially available, and so hospitals will be able to order that directly. Regarding hospital capacity, there are no hospitals in the state that are currently in crisis mode due to bed availability. However, in our metro areas, specifically Memphis and Nashville, but quite frankly, in all six of our metro areas where our large health systems are, they're starting to feel some strain from the increased hospitalization and ICU rates. We are now in pretty much daily contact with either local hospital leaders and or the State Hospital Association to clearly understand and keep up with their daily needs and challenges.

Dr. Piercey:

I want to remind you, even though you're not in the hospital business, you may not have any interaction with the medical system at large. There are things you can do to help your local hospital and to help your hospital keep capacity or keep capacity available. You know what I'm going to say next, frequent hand washing, physical distancing and consistent use of facial coverings will not only protect you, but it will also protect your high risk loved ones and your high risk community members who are more likely to be admitted to your local hospital. So, if there is something you can do in your community to help your hospital, and that's doing your part that we've talked about many, many times.

Dr. Piercey:

Finally, with increased case count, there will continue to be a growing number of people who are exposed to someone who's infected. So, I want to give you a few pointers on what to do if you were exposed. Now, first thing we need to talk about is, what does close contact mean? A lot of people are confused about what really defines close contact exposure. It's not a brief and casual interaction, it's not walking by somebody's desk or stopping in the hallway to chat briefly, it is defined as less than six feet for 10 minutes or more. Now, examples of that, if you had lunch with someone, if you rode in the car with someone or went to a party with someone, that might be close contact, but you have to first know what the definition is to know whether you were truly at risk from exposure.

Dr. Piercey:

But if you are determined to be a close contact of an infected person, one of the most important things you can do is communicate with your local public health officials. You may receive a call or an electronic communication notifying you that you are a close contact and helping to explain to you what you need to do in quarantine. Please answer this call and please give them as much information as you're comfortable giving them. And remember, health department officials will never ask for your social security number or financial information. We've been made aware that there are some calls out there, maybe not so much locally, but nationally, and so if you get one of those calls asking for that very personal and sensitive information, hang up immediately and call your local authorities.

Dr. Piercey:

If you are advised to quarantine, you should stay home for the full 14 days, and it's 14 days from the date of the last contact with the person, not from the day you were called, the date of the last contact with that infected person. Don't go to work, don't go to school, don't go to church, don't go in public. This is a true quarantine where you are supposed to be away from people. Many people believe that a negative test during quarantine will "get them out of jail." That's not true. I know we all want it to be true because nobody likes for their lives to be interrupted for that long, but there is no safe way to "test your way out of quarantine." Likewise, after you've finished that 14 days, you don't have to have a negative test at the end of that to go back to work or resume your normal activities.

Dr. Piercey:

A lot of people think, "Well, I've made it through this 14 days, maybe I need to test." You actually do not. If you've completed the 14 days, you're good to go and can return to your normal activities. I encourage you to visit the department of health website or the CDC website for any additional information. We have that all on our website in plain language, easy to read and understand, and also in multiple languages for those who English is not their first language. There are also some special exceptions on there for what's considered a critical infrastructure employee that has some different quarantine requirements for those in special categories. So if you think you're one of those, I encourage you to check out the website to learn more. Thank you for doing your part to keep Tennessee healthy.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you Dr. Piercey.

Governor Bill Lee:

Before we go to Q and A I want to remind Tennesseans that early voting begins this week on Friday. And if you're voting in person I want to encourage you to wear a mask and to social-distance at the polling station to protect those polling workers and the people that are there exercising their right to vote. In addition to the civic responsibility of voting I want to encourage Tennesseans to participate in the 2020 census. Participating in the census makes sure that we, Tennesseans, get the fair representation and the funding associated with that representation that we deserve. Take five minutes, fill out your household information at 2020census.gov. Thanks for being here and making through the comments, let's open it up for questions.

Speaker 2:

Hold the mic.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, Governor. Schools are opening across Tennessee in just a couple of weeks. We have heard from teachers and teachers organizations who are expressing a lot of anxiety about this, how to do it safely, what to do if a teacher gets sick. What does the state suggest in such a case when a teacher gets sick in a classroom, and there are high school teachers they teach 150 students throughout the day? Would all of those students have to quarantine and be tested?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yep. You started out by saying there's a lot of anxiety and there certainly is. This is something that parents are concerned about, it's something that teachers are concerned about, something that frankly we all are concerned about. We're concerned about our kids' educational attainment but we're also concerned about their safety, their wellbeing, all of the things that are associated with going back to school.

Governor Bill Lee:

It's the reason that we have the Department of Education sitting in Unified-Command Group, it's the reason we have three times a week calls with every district as we provide information and guidance and make decisions. There are being developed and will be very specific protocols for what happens when someone is positive. Whether it's a kid in a classroom, whether it's a teacher, there will be strategies for how to respond to those positive tests. Those will all be laid out and published by the Department of Education as they work together with individual districts. They may be different in different districts, but that information is all going to be made available over the next few weeks. Like I said, we'll have a lot more to say about that in a week because we're in process of finalizing that work.

Speaker 3:

Are you considering teacher pay as a part of that if a teacher has to quarantine for 14 days or more?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we haven't talked about that yet. I'm sure that'll be one of the topics of conversation whether is there any reason to consider that? I can't answer that question right now.

Speaker 3:

Would there be any case when, if a school has multiple people who test positive that it would revert back to online? [crosstalk].

Governor Bill Lee:

I think that one of the things that you'll see happen is the approach will be to quarantine as few as possible and still effectively from a health standpoint make sure that kids in that school are safe. You might close a classroom, or a hallway, or a wing, or a school before you might close a district. Those are the kinds of protocols that are being established and set up right now.

Speaker 3:

What about the testing of kids and teachers? Is that to be handled by the State or is going to be handled by the Board of Education.

Governor Bill Lee:

Again, those decisions are going to be... we are allowing districts to make decisions based on the situations on the ground in their individual district and their community and what the situation with COVID is in their district. I suspect those will be different in different districts.

Speaker 3:

You said it's going to be done in a few weeks, this will be before the school?

Governor Bill Lee:

It will be before schools open.

Speaker 3:

Before the schools open.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yep.

Speaker 4:

Hi, governor, I have one question for you and one for Dr. Piercey, if that's okay. Oh, ladies first, I'll ask Dr. Piercey. Just simple math of the numbers, there's somewhere around 30,000 active cases in Tennessee right now. Back in April, the CDC listed contract tracing is a critical part of reopening and I know that the sheer volume of cases makes that very difficult. How many of those do you think you're able to contact-trace? Give me a sense of the success rate because I know with community spread you don't know where all those are starting. Is that still true?

Dr. Piercey:

That's true to your latter point. I guess it's been two or three weeks ago now we tipped the point where at least half if not more, our community spread and you can't really identify a source. You make an important point that contact tracing is a critical piece of this response. And that's why in my comments earlier I encourage people to answer the phone and give every piece of information that they're comfortable giving, because we want to be able to identify those who are at risk of spreading it and mitigate that as soon as possible.

Dr. Piercey:

Related to success rate there's a lot of variables in there. One of them is just sheer do we have the appropriate contact information and can we reach them on the phone? And then if so, are we able to get that information? It varies based on region and metro area, but overall we can connect with about 85 plus percent of everybody that we know about. I'm encouraged by that, I have a lot of conversations with my counterparts nationally and that's not the case in some instances. I think that gives us a leg up on our ability to trace those.

Speaker 4:

Okay, thank you. And governor, if more Tennesseans don't heed wearing a mask or wearing a mask doesn't in some ways slow the positivity rate or any other of the key indicators that you're looking at, what other tools do you feel like you have at your disposal right now? I mean, this is a hypothetical question admittedly, but what would you go to next?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, it is hypothetical. And just like I've said from the very beginning of this pandemic, we consider any number of options that we have. The biggest data point for us is hospitalizations and hospital capacity and there are a number of things that can be done. But actually as opposed to the original approach with decisions about the health care system, we're working really hard now with the providers who know a whole lot more and have much more preparation for surge capacity, for sharing resources, for working together, to make sure that we pool those resources in that capacity.

Governor Bill Lee:

One of the biggest approaches is to engage more heavily which we're doing daily, almost daily with our healthcare providers. That is the biggest data point that matters. Cases certainly do but to the degree that they equate to hospitalizations. As was said earlier the hospitalization rate is not rising commensurate with the case rate. We'll see how long that holds, but so far we're encouraged by that. I'll get to you.

Speaker 5:

Governor, two quick questions. One, this morning several Democratic senators has said that they wish they would see you issue just a statewide mask mandate because they felt like that would significantly help reduce COVID cases. What do you say in response to their call?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think a targeted approach is the best way to do this. There are places in our state that have significant spread and then there are places in our state that don't. A one-size-fits-all approach to this in our view is not the best approach. I think engagement of citizens and talking, communicating, working with local leaders, our Unified-Command Group goes individually to communities where we think there's a possibility of a real increased spread to talk to them about what they can do in their individualized communities. That's why we gave authority to local mayors to make decisions about mask requirements. That approach, targeted is the way you ought to approach a pandemic that's targeting different parts of our state at different times.

Speaker 5:

Do you think that it makes some communities like in Sumner County where they issued one across the county, but right next door where they might also be seeing a spike but they're not issuing a mask mandate themselves. Do you think it makes it look like some people are taking it more seriously than others, especially if you being at the top of the state aren't stepping in like that?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, it's one of the reasons that I am everywhere I go talking about why this is so important. There are targeted approaches to particular places but there's a need for engagement of all Tennesseans here. And we believe that that buy-in is more important and sometimes mandate can actually be counterproductive to buy-in so that's why we think targeted approaches are the best.

Speaker 5:

And then lastly, back to schools. Does the state have a formal opinion of whether it should be in-class, hybrid or virtual as far as-

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm always for kids to go to school in-class, that's what we think is best for a large number of reasons. We could talk about that but our goal is to get kids in school in-class and do it safely.

Speaker 6:

Hi, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

[inaudible].

Speaker 6:

So you described the legal challenge to the abortion law as disheartening. It's also, potentially, it could be very costly to the state. How are you weighing that with the pandemic and how that has impacted state revenues?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, it is disheartening, but at the same time, as I said, the way to weigh that is that the lives of Tennesseans are worth defending, and that's what we'll do. It's very important that we defend and protect the lives of every Tennessean, the most vulnerable being, one portion of the most vulnerable being the unborn. That's why we would make that decision to defend it.

Speaker 6:

So not to be flippant here, but are you taking a blank check approach, like as much as it requires, as much as it costs?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we will defend it, whatever it takes in court, we'll defend it.

Speaker 7:

Make sure I got this right.

Speaker 7:

Governor and commissioner. What's the administration's goal on COVID testing in Tennessee, are you trying to mitigate, manage the pandemic or actually suppress or control it and how, how far away from achieving that are we in? And what needs to happen, you know, and how much more testing is needed to achieve that goal?

Speaker 2:

You want to, you want to address that?

Dr. Piercey:

That's a great question and it, I suppose it could be a semantic difference, whether you call it mitigate or suppress or contain. I don't think there is a place necessarily in our democratic country for full suppression. If you look at the countries that have suppressed the disease, they've done it effectively, but it is a with measures that Americans in general wouldn't tolerate. And so our goal is to mitigate the spread and to minimize the number of cases as much as possible. And you've heard me describe many times, this balance between case count and medical needs and economic needs. And I think you can see the themes of those, of that balance in almost all of our comments.

Dr. Piercey:

So, related to your question about testing. We've got a lot of testing right now, as we talked about last week, the problem right now is lab throughput and getting a reasonable turnaround time. Again, not specific to Tennessee, it's a problem all over the nation. I've had some really good conversations in the last week about not only novel approaches, but different ways we can expand the current testing methodology. You may have heard me or, or others talk about pooling, where you put multiple samples in one, in one vial. When, when it's appropriate, it's not always appropriate. That's one technique we're developing not we, the state, but the infrastructure at large is developing salivary testing. So you don't have to have that unpleasant nasal swab, you can just use saliva testing. And so that's an, that's a novel approach. And then looking at ways to ramp up just throughput in our lab, whether that's additional equipment, additional supplies, additional people and hours. Those are all of the things we're looking at. Nothing is off the table right now.

Dr. Piercey:

As far as do we have enough testing, I would really like to see that positivity rate get down. And so that's, that's a two part effort. One is having enough testing to make sure we're getting a wide enough sample, but it's also that illness surveillance curve going down, actually less people being sick. So I know the New York times had their opinion. We would always want to expand testing as much as we can. Right now, we've got to fix the lab issue first.

Speaker 7:

Okay so, I mean, at this point. Is it better, when we spoke last week or when you were talking last week, you know, you stated, you know, the number of cases increased, what, 279? Or on turn around, has that improved at all or is this sort of stuff in the works gonna take some time to determine around.

Dr. Piercey:

Yeah. We're continuing to watch the lab turnaround time of about 25 or 26 labs statewide. The ones that we're having the five and six day turnaround in the lab. Remember there's a day or two ahead of that a day or two on the back end of that. They're still about the same. There might've been a little bit of incremental improvement. It's going to take a few weeks to get that under control. I have heard from a couple of larger labs who believe they're going to have expanded capacity in the next week or two. So we're looking forward to that.

Speaker 7:

Thank you very much.

Dr. Piercey:

Thanks.

Natalie:

Hello governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Happy birthday, Natalie.

Natalie:

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. So looking at what you have said is really the most important, metric hospitalizations. That's not going down. So I think today was the most people are accounted for the most people being admitted to the hospital with COVID and one day than we've seen outside of statistical correction at one point a month ago.Aas other States are considering rolling back reopenings, putting more restrictions in place after they've loosened up. At what point would you consider doing that here?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I think, I think we, well, I'm not, I'm not at any point considering closing the economy back down, but I, there are certainly levers and options to pull around expanding capacity in healthcare. And the hospitals know that best. I had a long conversation with the board of the Tennessee hospital association, who said, you know, we, we know a lot more about this. We know how to manage this capacity problem much more than we did four, four months ago, let us work with you to make sure that happens.

Governor Bill Lee:

We want the healthcare systems to, in effect, solve that problem themselves without having to, without the state having to intervene there. And we think they can, they think they can. So I think that's the most important thing is to continue to watch that they are higher than they have ever been. But we do in fact, still have significant capacity in our system prior to engaging in surge capacity. It's very important that we remember that. In fact, we have times in our healthcare system ,and you can address this, and why don't you. But we have times in our healthcare system where we're actually much worse capacity shape than we are right now in COVID as a result of flu system. And otherwise you want to add to that comment?

Dr. Piercey:

Thank you for bringing that up. And I should have mentioned that in my comments today. In a bad flu season there might be only three or four or 5% capacity left. I have personally been in administrative positions in hospitals where we have to take it every two or three hours at a time and look at our bed, count and shift and move. We're nowhere close to that right now. So as the governor mentioned, hospitals are used to doing this. Now to be clear, nobody likes to be there and nobody wants to be there. It is a strain on everyone, but they're pretty adept at doing this. And so we've taken the stance that they know way better than we do what works for their hospital. And we want to be able to support them in doing that.

Natalie:

So governor would it, would it be accurate to say that there's, that's really not on the table right now? The concept of going back to more restrictions?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. It's not, it's not something we're discussing at all right now.

Natalie:

You, you also were talking about the importance of wearing a mask, how you set an example by doing that out in public at the office. You also encourage Tennesseans to wear them when they go vote. But as we're seeing a number of politicians, lawmakers campaigning right now, many of them are not. So even, you know, you're photographed and, and at some of these events, you and Maria being the only ones wearing masks, essentially, would you like to see that the state legislators set the example by wearing mask in these situations?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think I've been, I think I've been pretty clear about the fact that I...

Governor Bill Lee:

I think that I never want to close down businesses again. And one of the ways that we can do that is by mitigating the spread of the virus. And there's, there's pretty good evidence that wearing masks, mitigates the spread of that virus. And so I encourage any Tennessean to engage in wearing masks.

Natalie:

Is there an update on special session?

Governor:

No, there's really not. It's not, it's no more final than it was. We, we expect that there will be one, the date hasn't been set for certain that, the call hasn't been made. So not, not really an update, but there are ongoing talks about it.

Speaker 8:

Thank you governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 8:

Is this working?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think so.

Speaker 8:

Either way. So last night, governor, the Williamson County commission, they voted to move forward with altering its County seal, which bears the image of a Confederate flag. Now much like the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust, the Tennessee historical commission, commission that you yourself sit on, governor, would have to approve any alteration by two thirds vote. Now the Williamson County commission, they're planning on submitting a request to alter the seal ahead of your next meeting in October. Is this something that you would consider voting in favor of?

Governor Bill Lee:

I haven't looked at their proposal at all. I will say that I think that, you know, organizations like, like the fuller story and Franklin, that have worked together with local, the local community, to make sure that the fuller story is told. You know, I said last week that this idea of tearing down monuments and erasing history and kind of that mob mentality approach of erasing things is not the way we need to do it in Tennessee. We need to do it with a process of engagement with communities. That's what they're doing in downtown Franklin. So I think they have a process and an approach, and that is exactly the way it ought to be handled across the state.

Speaker 8:

Thank you.

Speaker 9:

Yeah. So governor considering the, there could be several parents or maybe thousands, tens of thousands of parents who might choose to send their children to school virtually instead of into the classroom. Are you considering any steps with the department of human services or with the unemployment insurance trust fund to use that, to help these parents? Because right now, if they're called back to work, they're called back to work, but they might not be able to stay home with their kids. If they choose to keep their children at home, are you considering any steps in that direction?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we've actually taken significant steps already in that way. That's what the unemployment insurance trust fund is for, is for people who have, who have lost their jobs and are unemployed. It's also the department of human services through antenna funding is providing childcare payments to Tennesseans throughout this pandemic, and that will continue. The definition of how long that will continue isn't, hasn't been decided yet, but those steps have already been made.

Speaker 9:

But if they decide to stay home, instead of going back to work, if they're called back to work, would you be able to take steps to provide them any money?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, they have access to that money as it is now. The way that unemployment is working in the coronavirus environment allows that, and the antenna funding is available for healthcare as well.

Speaker 9:

Is there any move to increase, maybe double the number of contact tracers, or maybe even, I've heard the number of maybe the 7,000 contact tracers are needed.

Governor Bill Lee:

You want to, you want to answer that?

Dr. Piercey:

So to answer your first question about, are there efforts to increase the number of contact tracers? Yes, sir. All day, every day, we are engaged with multiple agencies to bring on staff, trying to look at, out what our employees are doing from the state employee standpoint. And can we utilize that pool? What can we use as far as in terms of technology to make things more efficient? I'm not referencing the tracking software. That's not something we want to pursue, but electronic communication, as you know, sometimes it's more efficient than calling on the phone and you have a little bit better response rate.

Dr. Piercey:

So in regards to the number of contact tracers, you know, it's an interesting exercise because, at least in modern history, not for the last hundred years or so, we haven't had this scale of a pandemic. So there aren't a lot of benchmarks on how many we need. There are a lot of tools that estimate that. And so right now, I don't believe I've seen the one that says 7,000, but we are adding day by day. We've started with plus or minus around 700. And we're, we're getting pretty close to being able to double that over the next few weeks.

Speaker 9:

Governor, this question's for you and the Tennessee historical commission. You brought up the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust. Should that group meet sooner than October? And is there anything you think you could do, or should it be speeded up the actual meeting itself?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think, I think that's a statutory date.