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September 17, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for our briefing today. Today we will be talking for the most part on my comments about our economy and about important developments in Tennessee's economy and efforts to get Tennesseans back to work. We'll also be talking about the ability of Tennesseans again, to safely visit their loved ones and friends in nursing homes, and the cost of isolation to the residents in our state that are in those nursing homes.

Governor Bill Lee:

Earlier this week, the Department of Labor announced that work search requirements would be resumed once again for those who are seeking unemployment benefits in our state. As federal money stops and the state's $275 payment continues, those work search requirements will be certain that folks access the short term benefit available, but also pursue the long term goal of permanent employment. Our unemployment rate is training in the right direction. We announced earlier that Tennessee's unemployment rate is 8.5%, which is ahead of the national average. It's moving in the right direction. It isn't exactly where we want it to be yet, but we have to continue to pursue efforts to get Tennesseans back to work. The Tennessee comeback economic story will continue as Tennesseans get connected to currently the 200,000 jobs that exist on jobs4tn.com. That website, jobs4tn.com, is a great resource for Tennesseans who are looking to find employment in this pandemic. We also have a tool called Tennessee Talent Exchange that matches potential employees who have lost their jobs as the result in the hospitality industry, and it connects those employees with employers who are looking for jobs to be filled in the retail and particularly in the grocery business.

Governor Bill Lee:

So jobs4tn.com and the Tennessee Talent Exchange are great resources for Tennesseans looking for work. For some, they're looking for a new job. It's a career change for them, and new skills are needed. We are very encouraged by the number of apprenticeship programs that are opening up across our state. 40 counties have new apprenticeship programs that give folks the opportunity to gain important skills training on the job. I want to highlight a couple of businesses that have implemented these new programs, these new registered apprenticeship programs; Ace Electric in Madison County, Limelight Hospitality in Murray County, ISG in Knox County. We want to thank them for being willing to take a risk and to provide a job and provide a skill for a Tennessean that needs a job.

Governor Bill Lee:

Unemployment impacts individuals significantly, but it also impacts businesses because businesses are taxed to provide unemployment benefits in time of great unemployment in our state. The University of Tennessee's Boyd Center just released projections that the tax premiums that would have been paid by our state's businesses would have increased by 300% had we not invested our coronavirus relief funds in the unemployment insurance trust fund. And I want to thank the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, the members of the legislature, both speakers, Speaker Sexton and Lieutenant Governor McNally, the state's controller for providing stewardship of these federal funds and for making the decision to defend Tennessee businesses aggressively by investing in our unemployment insurance trust fund.

Governor Bill Lee:

That prevents Tennessee businesses from having to be the recipient of a tax increase and increases in taxes in the midst of a pandemic are detrimental to individuals and to businesses, and I'm grateful for the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group's effort to keep from raising taxes in our state. I want to also remind Tennessee businesses all across our state that the Tennessee Business Relief Fund is still open, but only until September 25th. 40,000 businesses in 60 different industries qualify for this relief funding checks from $2,500 to $30,000 per business, depending on the business size and type or available. We have set aside $300 million for business relief. I want to make sure that Tennessee businesses get access to that money and we get that funding into the hands of those businesses that are creating jobs and moving our economy forward in our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

Before moving to reports from other folks, I want to talk just a little bit about an announcement regarding our nursing homes. We have learned through this pandemic that the most vulnerable in our state, particularly the elderly that reside in a nursing home or a long-term care facility have the greatest risk with regard to COVID-19. And that's the reason that we have taken urgent measures early on and that we had a very strict strategy, a very intentional strategy to protect the vulnerable in our nursing homes. And we will continue that strategy to make sure that they remain protected. But we also know that there's a great cost to pay when loved ones in a nursing home are isolated from their friends and their family. And after months of isolation, those costs mount emotionally, physically, and otherwise.

Governor Bill Lee:

So I have asked the Department of Health to update our visitation policies. CMS dictates much of the visitation policies for nursing homes in our state, but we have the opportunity to update those policies to the degree that we can. So I want to ask Dr. Piercey to come up and make a few comments about that new policy in our state.

Dr. Piercey:

Thank you, governor. Good afternoon. My comments today will solely be focused on a group of Tennesseans who are extraordinarily important to all of us, senior citizens. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have talked at length about the enhanced vulnerability and risk that this virus places upon our seniors, especially those residing in congregate living settings like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But older adults, especially those residing in long-term care facilities are also at risk for a second crisis. The negative consequences of loneliness and isolation. Relationships with family and friends are critical at every stage of life, but they're particularly meaningful as we grow older. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted face-to-face interactions, leaving an emptiness not easily replaced by phone calls or virtual visits. As the governor just mentioned, protecting the physical health of our long-term care residents has been the top priority for our administration during this response.

Dr. Piercey:

Our persistent and multifaceted efforts within our long-term care facilities appear to be paying off in Tennessee, as we do have one of the lowest COVID death rates in nursing homes in the nation. Undoubtedly, these strict measures have saved dozens if not hundreds of lives, but that has come at the expense of valuable time spent with loved ones, many of whom are in their twilight years. I'm proud to announce today that the wait is over. It's time to reunite residents and families in a safe and disciplined manner so we can better balance the physical and emotional needs of our older Tennesseans. Through engagement with stakeholders and partners, including nursing home providers, AARP, LeadingAge, Tennessee Healthcare Association, and Tennessee Hospital Association, as well as family members of long-term care residents and community advocates, we're rolling out three new initiatives today to enhance the wellbeing and quality of life for long-term care residents in our state.

Dr. Piercey:

First, we're expanding visitation options in long-term care facilities. In addition to essential visits that have always been allowed, facilities who have gone at least 14 days with no new cases in residents or staff will immediately be allowed to offer outdoor or limited indoor visitation beginning October 1st. These visits will maintain the strictest precautions for the safety of both residents and staff, including face coverings, physical distancing, environmental disinfection, and in some instances, testing of visitors. Further, if a facility maintains no new cases for 28 days, they will additionally be allowed the benefit of offering an essential caregiver program. Essential caregivers are designated individuals who may visit more frequently to provide assistance to loved ones with their activities of daily living like feeding, bathing and dressing.

Dr. Piercey:

While we're excited about offering broader access to visitation, I want to be very clear. The health and safety of our vulnerable Tennesseans, particularly those in long-term care facilities remains our top priority. Thus, if a facility were to have new cases amongst its residents or staff, these expanded visitation allowances would be suspended until the facility is once again infection free for at least 14 days. Secondly, consistent with CMS guidelines, we are relaxing restrictions for resident interactions within facilities, including communal dining, therapeutic and social activities, and visits by non-healthcare personnel like barbers and beauticians. Again, these allowances only apply to COVID negative residents in facilities who've had no new cases in 14 days. And just like with visitation, we insist that the facilities maintain strict infection control practices, including use of face coverings, physical distancing, and capacity limits.

Dr. Piercey:

Finally, I'm proud to announce the formation of the Tennessee COVID-19 Long-Term Care Task Force. The membership of this task force is broad-based, including state agency representatives from the departments of health, mental health and substance abuse services, intellectual and developmental disabilities, TennCare, the Commission on Aging and Disability, and the General Assembly. This taskforce also includes representatives from advocacy organizations, providers and facility administrators, community behavioral health, and long-term care residents and their family members. I want to give particular recognition to our valued partner, AARP, who was instrumental in urging us to create this task force. The task force is charged with addressing and implementing new policy solutions to tackle both immediate and long-term issues in our long-term care facilities. The very first objective of this newly formed task force will be to monitor the safety and effectiveness of the expanded visitation activity guidelines that we're announcing today and refine them if necessary.

Dr. Piercey:

We're very grateful to the staff and administrators of the long-term care facilities across Tennessee who will be working diligently over the next two weeks to prepare for the implementation of these new guidelines on October 1st. If you have a loved one in a facility that qualifies for visitation, I encourage you to communicate with that facility to learn more about specific policies or schedules they have in place before you visit. Throughout the pandemic, the governor and I have been touched by the many stories of families who are desperately missing their loved ones. So we are especially proud that our state is now in a position to encourage these long awaited reunions. Tennesseans have done their part to flatten the curve and we ask you to continue making those daily efforts of washing your hands, wearing your mask, and watching your distance, so we can continue moving in the right direction. Thank you. Thanks.

Governor Bill Lee:

I want to add my gratitude to the nursing home industry and the partners that they have been for us across the state. We don't do this, they do it, and they do an incredible job of protecting their residents and we're grateful for those partnerships. Commissioner Schwinn, would you please come up and give a brief reopening report on schools?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Good afternoon. So I had the great fortune of being in Alamo City, Bell City, and Crockett County schools today, just wanted to give them a special shout out. They're doing a great job with reopening. A couple of quick updates. We have 129 districts that are currently operating under a hybrid model based on parent choice. Three districts are utilizing other hybrid models, so those are alternating schedules, one grade band at a time. Nine districts are fully in-person and five districts are remote only. In terms of increases, this week, we saw a 15% increase in participation rates as it relates to updating the dashboard with 90% of districts or 131 districts who are submitting some level of information.

Commissioner Schwinn:

We've also seen 400 new positive cases in students, 197 in staff. That is a decrease from last week with more districts reporting. So again, while the rate of districts submitting school level data has increased, we've actually seen a decrease in the number of positive cases being reported in schools. Outside of that, we have graduation rates that are coming out today. So this week, the department released its graduation rates for the 2019/20 cohort of seniors. While overall the graduation rate has increased over the last decade, we did see a small dip statewide this year, much of that is because of school closures in the spring related to the pandemic. However, for the 2019 and '20 school year, we did see some notable gains across the state, and I do want to make sure to highlight those. 69 districts improved their graduation rates from 2019 to 2020. 58 districts graduated 95% or more of their cohorts. 37 schools had graduation rates of 100%.

Commissioner Schwinn:

And then we also saw six districts improve by five percentage points or more, which is a pretty incredible gain for graduation rates. So very proud of those schools and districts who did incredible work in very challenging circumstances. Again, we'll have more information released throughout the week.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you. Thank you. We'll open up for questions. We have on board, Commissioner McCord, with any questions regarding unemployment you might have, Director Sheehan from TEMA. General Holmes is on board, members of our unified command group. So let's get started with questions.

Chris:

Hello, governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

How are you, Chris?

Chris:

[inaudible] numbers, I'm sure you're aware of that. [inaudible] allegation. What about in the state level? [inaudible] through this [inaudible]. And also, if you'd like to comment on what's been going on [inaudible].

Governor Bill Lee:

So I believe that I have a responsibility as a steward of the funding that comes to this state, taxpayer money, and also have a responsibility to navigate our state, not me, but we have a responsibility to navigate this state through this incredible pandemic. My approach has been to lift restrictions on businesses as soon as possible. It's been to utilize best practices-

Governor Bill Lee:

It's been to utilize best practices from a health standpoint to protect the lives of Tennesseans and mitigate the spread of the virus. It's been to stimulate our economy and inject dollars into those businesses that were hurt by the economic shutdown initially used to mitigate the virus spread. That's the approach that we've taken. I do believe that we've used data to make decisions that we thought were in the best interest of every Tennessean. And I trust the data and the numbers that we have had and that we've used to make those decisions.

Speaker 1:

There's been so much pushback though, and we've been hearing it now for several weeks if not several months on the original closing dates. Would you have done anything different?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think there were a lot of things that we did not know. We know so much more now. That's the reason ... So there were a lot of things we didn't know in the beginning and we made decisions in the beginning based on a lack of information and projections and models that showed what may or may not happen. And I had a responsibility to protect the lives of Tennesseans is in that. And I made decisions as a result of that limited information that we had.

Governor Bill Lee:

But as the information became real on the ground information, it became apparent to me that we needed to open our businesses back up. We needed to pursue in-person school, we needed to inject dollars into businesses so they could begin to return our economy, all the while making decisions like continuing to protect nursing homes and the vulnerable population. You use data, first, you use projections, and then you use real data on the ground to make decisions. I feel good about those decisions and the data that we used to make them. We've been real clear about how we've made them and what those numbers were. I think we are navigating through this in a way, Tennesseans are, that is strong and economic recovery. It's strong in our approach to the health pandemic. And I'm very hopeful about where we're headed.

Speaker 2:

Hi, Governor. We saw higher revenue numbers come up about 115 million more than projected. I'm curious, what does that mean looking ahead about the budget cuts that you had to make to your original budget that you proposed earlier this year, and particularly about teacher pay raises? Is that now being discussed? Is that back on the table looking ahead?

Governor Bill Lee:

You know, I think there's a lot of unknown about what the future holds for our budget. There's been a significant amount. In our state, there's been billions of dollars injected into the state's economy through relief programs from the federal government that certainly have helped stimulate our economy. As those relief funds come to an end that will have an impact on revenues in our state. For example, unemployment insurance payments that will be ceased from the federal government, that will be stopped here in the next few days, will impact spending from those who may have received those unemployment benefits. So the truth is we're very encouraged about the fact that our revenues are up. It certainly makes us hopeful about the ways that we can invest in teacher pay and/or budget initiatives that are very important to me and to us, things that we talked about before this pandemic hit.

Governor Bill Lee:

It's just much too early to project what the economy will look like over the next year. Most of the projections show that we will struggle as an economy, even in the state of Tennessee. So we have a lot yet to know about that, but we certainly hope to return as soon as we can to times when we can invest in the things that we need to invest in.

Speaker 2:

And just quickly, in your original budget or the budget that was passed earlier this year, that included 50 million for an employee bailout. Has the state had to use that?

Governor Bill Lee:

50 ... I'm sorry.

Speaker 2:

I can't remember the amount, but the employee bailout fund, have you had to utilize that?

Governor Bill Lee:

The employee bailout funds? I'm not sure what you're-

Speaker 3:

The buyout.

Speaker 2:

The buyout. Sorry, not bailout, buyout.

Governor Bill Lee:

Buyout? You'll have to tell me what you're talking about.

Speaker 2:

It was kind of vague at the time, but it was basically, it was supposed to offer basically buyout employees in case you needed to do something else.

Governor Bill Lee:

Oh, for state employees. You're talking about state employees.

Speaker 2:

For state employees. [inaudible]

Governor Bill Lee:

We are proposing and will be proposing that budget to the legislature to look at the ways that we can, unfilled positions, that we can fill those ... I mean that we can eliminate unfilled positions as a part of budget reductions going forward, we'll continue to look at that.

Speaker 2:

All right. Thank you.

Speaker 5:

Good afternoon.

Governor Bill Lee:

Good afternoon.

Speaker 5:

Mayor John Cooper of Nashville recently requested more than 80 million more dollars.

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry. You're going to have speak up just a little bit.

Speaker 5:

I'm sorry. Mayor John Cooper of Nashville recently requested more than 80 million more dollars from the state for relief. Is the state going to approve that money?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I was in receipt of that request and I actually replied to the mayor today. Again, our strategy in our state has been to not raise taxes and cut spending. It's been to invest in the businesses that have suffered through relief funds. It has been to mitigate the spread of the virus but limit restrictions on businesses and lift those when we felt those business restrictions were inhibiting the growth of our economy and not contributing to the spread of the virus. That's not been the approach consistent ... Metro's approach has not been consistent with our approach. I have a responsibility as governor to 95 counties and to the citizens of every Tennessee county.

Governor Bill Lee:

Additional funding for one county takes away from all of the other counties. And Metro Nashville, in fact, per capita has received more federal funding than any other county in the state through this pandemic. And that's why I responded to the mayor and said that we would not be adding additional funding to Metro Nashville per his request.

Sergio:

Thank you. Hi, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Sergio.

Sergio:

Thanks for talking with us today. I have a question for you or maybe Commissioner Schwinn.

Governor Bill Lee:

Okay.

Sergio:

So we know it's awkward. Sorry for that. So we know that the Department of Education's dashboard is out there. It's live. But we have seen that there are school districts that have not reported their school-by-school breakdown. One of those schools is Williamson County. So I was wondering how is that helpful for the parents of kids in those school districts that don't have that data?

Governor Bill Lee:

You want to reply to that?

Commissioner Schwinn:

I'm sorry, what was the county that you referenced?

Sergio:

Williamson County.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Sure. So right now this is our second week of data entry. And certainly, I will say on behalf of superintendents, they've got a lot on their plates and will defend them a little bit on wanting to make sure that they can focus on the business of reopening schools. I am really proud that 90% of our districts have submitted district-level data. And certainly what we've seen is at the local level as local school districts are making decisions, they are having those conversations about school-level data reporting. And so like we've said, the district-level aggregates are really important. We are seeing that in 90% of our districts and we'll continue to work closely with every district around any kind of conversations they are having at the local level related to school-level reporting. But those are local decisions.

Sergio:

But one of the things that your department said, Commissioner was that by August 22nd, you were expecting full reporting from all the school districts. That's next week. And we see that not every school district is reporting. You're not requiring them to report these data either. So how do you get buy-in when you're not requiring them to do this?

Commissioner Schwinn:

I mean, I think 90% is pretty good buy-in for school districts, many of whom are in their four to sixth week of school. So again, when we look at last week, when we were at 75%, this week, we have 90% of districts reporting and certainly continue to be really proud of the work that our districts are doing. And I think very grateful that they are reporting that as regularly as they are, again, in our second week. We will continue to work closely with them. Our core offices have worked with them on data entry and we will continue again to work closely as it relates to school-level reporting. But that does need to remain a local decision, especially as they think about what that means in terms of what information they're providing in their local communities. But that's something that will continue to be a ongoing conversation with our districts. But 90% in the second week, again, we're one out of two departments of education who have provided a dashboard nationally, continue to be really proud that 90% is where we're at just in the second week.

Sergio:

I have a quick follow-up. But if you're a parent in one of those 10% school districts, that's not enough. To know that 90% has turned in data, but my school district is not, that's not enough. So I mean, how do you make sure that those parents are not kept in the dark? That's been the situation with this administration in the last few weeks? How do you make sure these parents in these 10% of school districts, like you said, are not kept in the dark with these data?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Yep. So, appreciate that. And as a parent of two school-aged children, I certainly would want to know that information myself. And as a parent, I would certainly bring that up with my local school board and my local school district. That is what we are seeing across the state. Parents are becoming very meaningfully engaged and have been with those conversations as it relates to school reopening. How districts make decisions around what data they will share in at what grain size must remain a local decision. It must be a conversation with school boards, school districts, and families.

Commissioner Schwinn:

The Department of Education and the state is working very hard to create opportunities and platforms to share that at a statewide level and that continues to be the balance that we have. But again, we'll continue to work closely with districts to get as much information as possible into that dashboard as we move into just the third week.

Sergio:

Thank you.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Yes, sir.

Speaker 6:

Good afternoon, Governor. In your letter to Mayor Cooper today, you outlined concerns with how he's prioritized federal coronavirus relief spending. You don't say this, but would you classify that as fiscal mismanagement? What would you call what they've done? And I want you to clarify, you said that you all would not be providing additional funds to them. I don't know if that is explicitly said in the letter, so to clarify, there's no chance of them getting additional funds?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I certainly want to be, as I've tried to be throughout this pandemic to partner with and to work with the mayor and we will do so. But the current request, I'm not going to fund the current request as requested. So I offered in that letter, a number of questions about the way that it appeared to me that they were spending those funds. And I suspect that we'll meet and talk about his response to those questions in order for us to continue to move forward. But as I said earlier, for me, this is about stewardship. This is about responsibly utilizing taxpayer dollars. And I believe that we should cut budgets and not raise taxes. That's the first responsible action that we should do. That's what the state's approach is. I think that's what government's approach should be, is to live within our means. I think that we should significantly invest in business economic recovery. We have invested and set aside $300 million for business recovery. That would be a priority if I were in operating in a metro government, that would also be a priority.

Governor Bill Lee:

And the reality is, is that Metro Nashville has received, of the Coronavirus Relief Funds, $121 million set aside specifically through the federal government for Metro Nashville. They were one of few counties that actually receive designated funds from the federal government. There are 95 counties. Providing funding for Davidson County, additionally, beyond the billions of dollars that they currently have, it means taking away from the funding for those other 94 counties. And that's something that for me to consider, I have to believe that the strategy that I'm investing in is one that is consistent and aligned with the state's strategy, and Metro Nashville's are not.

Speaker 6:

You noted in the letter that Mayor Cooper had imposed some of the most restrictive rules on commercial activity, something like that. Do you think that he should lift all of the current restrictions on bars and restaurants? Where are you on that?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think that we made a commitment early on to try to lift restrictions as soon as possible in a way that we thought would not compromise our approach to health and mitigation of the virus. We have to get our economy moving forward. Metro Nashville is the least rapidly recovering economy of all metro regions in the United States as of right now. That means, in my view, that our strategy in that particular place from an economic standpoint is not an effective one and that includes restrictions on businesses and their ability to operate, to employ, to generate revenue for our state. And to the degree that we can lift those restrictions as soon as possible, that's the strategy that I've taken and that's the strategy that I think we ought to take all across the state.

Speaker 6:

Seeing how he hasn't done that, at any point, would you step in and say these six local county health departments can no longer set the rules?.

Governor Bill Lee:

I've been really clear about the power of local authority, whether it's in mask, facial restriction. I mean, requirements, mask requirements or operating an economy. I certainly am not going to invest further into what I think is not a good strategy. And I've seen ... And the mayor has begun to make efforts. So, you know what, I think that we just continue to talk about what we think the best strategy is going forward.

Speaker 6:

So not rolling back the ability for them to set their own [crosstalk]?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think that he and I will be talking further about what we can do together and how we can work together to make Nashville's economy and all of Tennessee's economy move more rapidly in the right direction.

Speaker 7:

Thank you, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yes, sir.

Speaker 7:

So almost two weeks ago, the Marion County Fair saw an estimated 20,000 people attend that event. There were safety measures put in place, social distancing signs, things like that. But as far as enforcement mechanisms, a lot of them you could say were severely lacking, such as venues like a big arena, where over a thousand people are able to be packed together. The majority of which did not have masks. Do events like these make you rethink your approach to leave the decision to impose mask mandates and things like that completely up to the county mayors? Do events like those make you rethink that approach?

Governor Bill Lee:

I certainly think that mayors have an obligation to be responsible, in the way they protect their citizens in their counties. It's one of the reasons that I think you give elected officials, local elected officials, authority to do so. The citizens of Murray County will respond positively or negatively to any number of things that happen in their county. I have concerns anytime we have events that might create a spread incident. But I'd be really interested to know cases associated with that event, afterward. And that'll be something that I'm sure the health department in that community will look at.

Governor Bill Lee:

But I just implore Tennesseans all across the state to use common sense, to make decisions of their own, but to remember that there are things that work, particularly when you are in an environment that you think is going to expose yourself or others to COVID, wearing masks, when it's the right place at the right time, washing your hands, staying home when you're sick. I say those things, they sound real repetitive, but we say them over and over because they really do matter. That being said, I don't know about the particular event you talked about-

Speaker 7:

Sure.

Governor Bill Lee:

... but it's important we talk about those.

Speaker 7:

May I ask, hypothetically, is there any event that you think could warrant the state's intervention, given the severity of the public health risk it poses?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, public health officials have the authority to intervene when they think there's a risk. That authority exists. It hasn't been used because there hasn't been a time or an event when we thought someone's life was at danger. But this whole thing, across our state, is really an issue of making personal decisions and being personally responsible, as a community, as a leader, as an individual, and Tennesseans have done a very good job of doing that. And I'm proud of that. And we're cautiously optimistic about the direction where it's headed, as a result.

Speaker 7:

And last question, mayor ... or Governor, excuse me. Unrelated, but have you had a chance to speak with Ben Shapiro after his announced move from California to Nashville?

Governor Bill Lee:

I have not.

Speaker 7:

Okay.

Speaker 8:

Governor, to pull up on the question about masks. Since we last talked, there have been two additional photos that have emerged of you not wearing a mask and not being socially distant. One was at the boat parade. The other, there was a photo of you in a local restaurant with your arms around the owner, underneath signs that said wear a mask and socially distant, and you were doing neither.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah.

Speaker 8:

Do you have any regrets? Do you think you could do a better job of modeling what you see as good behavior?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think I do model that. I think Tennesseans need to know, and they hear me every day, and they see me in masks every day. They watch what we say and what we do. I think it's really important that people know that I think it's very serious. I think it's very appropriate. I think that you do have to make your personal decisions, but you have an obligation. And I follow that obligation. And there are circumstances where I don't wear a mask because I don't feel that I'm at risk, in that situation. But, yeah, I feel safe, and when I don't, I wear a mask.

Speaker 8:

And do you think you should have posed with your arms around that gentleman, with no mask?

Governor Bill Lee:

I felt safe in that environment. I don't know who it was or if I know them, but I feel safe. When I I don't feel safe, I wear a mask.

Speaker 8:

And then a quick question about your conversations with the mayor. You have previously said that you trust county mayors to do what they think is best for their jurisdictions, that you're not going to issue mandates. Is this a new approach where you're going to punish County mayors if they don't do what you say?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I want to work with our mayor of metro Nashville, and I have been. And we've had ongoing relationships, and we'll work on this issue, as well. No, I don't think you punish. I think you just make decisions about your own, that you have the ability to make, with regard to leaders and what you believe, and you encourage, and you work together. We've done that in this state really well. We have worked together. I've made a real strong effort to work with the municipal mayors, all across our state, as well as County mayors, every day. I feel good about that approach, and that's the direction I'll continue to take. [inaudible].

Speaker 9:

Governor, your ECD commissioner confirmed, this week, that you all sent the video to the Chinese US investment event, earlier this month. Considering all of the complaints about China, human rights abuses and allegations, they shipped the flu over here, or not the flu, but the pandemic, is it appropriate to recruit those types of jobs?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think what's most appropriate is that you have a very clear and strict vetting process for whatever international company you talk to about coming to Tennessee. I was in a meeting with Secretary Pompeo, talked specifically to governors about relationships with China and Chinese companies. And he talked about being very clear and understanding who you're working with, not to work with companies that are owned or connection to Chinese communist government, but to just be very aware of the circumstances you're in.

Governor Bill Lee:

That's why we have a very strict policy with regard to any international company that we talk to, that we know who they are and what their connections are. And we will continue to review and are reviewing our current policy with regard to Chinese companies.

Speaker 9:

One thing on local control, the Shelby County Schools District is not allowing fall sports, contact sports, even though you allowed contact sports to proceed. This puts them sort of at odds with even those municipal school systems in Shelby County. Do you feel Shelby County Schools is overreacting by not allowing soccer and football, this fall?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I will say this. I think children ought to be in a classroom before they're allowed to be on the football field. And I have worked really hard to get kids in person in classrooms, in part so that they can participate in all kinds of extracurricular activities. That's been our approach, and that's what I think should be happening, all across the state.

Speaker 9:

So are you saying you're okay with it?

Governor Bill Lee:

Okay with playing football?

Speaker 9:

Okay with them not playing, since they're doing online learning-

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, that's a local decision, and I've deferred to local decisions. We've seen that all across our state. I can tell you what I think we ought to be doing. I think they ought to be in school, in person, and then I think they would be able to participate in extracurricular activities.

Governor Bill Lee:

And one more thing, real quick, you talked about not raising taxes during the pandemic, but did you not support the increase in the online sales tax collection?

Governor Bill Lee:

That actually is a tax that's currently levied but just not recovered. So sales tax is an ongoing and currently existing statute in this state. Collecting it via the online process is a matter of collecting a tax that was already due, but not previously being collected. It wasn't a tax increase. It was a collection of a current tax in statute.

Speaker 9:

Okay.

Speaker 10:

Hi, governor. My first question is following up on something that you said a little bit earlier in this press conference, talking about how metro Nashville's approach to reopening the economy hasn't been consistent with yours. Jumping off of the question talking about the emails that were released with Mayor Cooper, and how it appears that they were picking and choosing the data they released to keeping businesses closed on Broadway, what was your reaction, following up on saying that their approach has not been consistent with yours?

Governor Bill Lee:

My reaction is just that I think we need to get Nashville's economy moving forward. We need to be less restrictive on businesses, particularly businesses that we haven't seen a correlation to COVID-19 cases and rise. We need to open businesses. We Nashville to open up. We need conventions to be here. We need to operate safely, but we need to get our economy moving forward. There's a great cost to Tennessee when we restrict businesses and close down our economy, and we need to remove the barriers to the degree that we can, while protecting the health of Tennesseeans. We've shown that we can do that. We need to continue to do it, going forward. That's what I would say about that.

Speaker 10:

We've had some comments on social media and emails, calls to our newsroom, saying that they have lost some faith in Mayor Cooper and feeling like they're not being as transparent as humanly possible. How can you guarantee the people, our viewers, people watching our Facebook stream, that the state is being as transparent as possible?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, well, we hope that by being as transparent as possible, we can show folks that we're as transparent as possible. I just want Tennesseeans to know that we recognize that their health is really important, and the decisions we make to protect them are serious. This pandemic is serious. The cost to citizens that have lost their lives and those families is serious. We take it very seriously, but we also take very seriously the hundreds of thousands of people that have lost their jobs, that have lost their businesses, that will lose their homes, that can't pay their rent. That's very serious to me.

Governor Bill Lee:

And the longer that mounts up, I take it very seriously. The academic losses associated with a child not being in a classroom, very serious to me. It's why we've worked so hard to get kids in-person schooling. So there are a number of things that are very concerning. It's why we're working so hard to attack and move toward those things that seriously impact Tennesseans, to make a better outcome for them across the board.

Speaker 10:

And then a quick clarification question for maybe Dr. Piercey, you said nursing homes, for people coming to visit, you said the visitors would be tested in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances?

Dr. Piercey:

There are actually two circumstances that would require testing of visitors. In the 14-day category, for limited indoor visitation, if a resident is not able to leave his or her room, to go to the designated indoor space, that person, the visitor can come into the resident's room if that visitor has a negative test, either a negative PCR within 72 hours or a negative onsite point of care test. That's one scenario. The other scenario is in the essential caregiving program that I referenced, and I think you probably heard me describe. That's a much more intimate interaction. They're very close to the resident and therefore at high risk. And so those essential caregivers are subject to the same testing requirements as the staff, according to the CMS frequency table. For most facilities, that'll be weekly. Some are monthly, some are twice weekly, but for most, that will be weekly.

Speaker 10:

Thank you both.

Speaker 11:

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

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you all. I want to make a closing comment by recognizing the 223rd anniversary of our United States constitution. The American commitment to the constitution and to the rule of law sets us apart as a nation. And the constitution really guarantees, it lays out the fact, that our freedoms are endowed to us by our creator and that every citizen can take hold of the opportunities that America has to offer because of this commitment to its structure and to the rule of law.

Governor Bill Lee:

And that's particularly meaningful in a time when the relevance of our constitution is tested and when the commitment to the rule of law is being challenged. But, today, we celebrate the sovereignty of this nation, the thoughtful founding of this nation, the Providence of God continuing through our nation, and we celebrate the anniversary of our United States constitution. Thank you all for joining. We will see you again, next week.