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September 3, 2020

Governor Bill Lee:

Thanks for joining us for our weekly briefing. Today marks a milestone. Six months ago today, a significant storm system swept across our nation and our state with tornadoes that left a path of destruction from west Tennessee through middle Tennessee all the way to the Upper Cumberland. Businesses were lost. Homes were lost. Most importantly, lives were lost. In the early morning hours of March 3rd, six months ago, our neighbors were displaced, and many of them temporarily lost hope. Within just a few days, we had COVID-19. The first case hit our state.

Governor Bill Lee:

Uncertain times, though, brings out the very best of people, and we have certainly seen that happen in our state. Tennessee has dug in with a spirit of resilience, and they rolled up their sleeves to serve. Even in the age of social distancing, we didn't let distance keep us from serving our neighbors and from helping and caring for one another. So today we remember Tennesseans to take heart that we have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Governor Bill Lee:

So today we will talk about a number of things. We'll talk about reporting COVID-19 cases in schools. Commissioner Schwinn will give a report about those cases and that data. We'll also give an update on our general health data around COVID-19 and the way we're refreshing that data based on the new information that we have. We know a lot more about this pandemic, so we know that we need to report data in a different way, and so we're refreshing that data. We'll talk about that today. I've also asked Commissioner Barnes to be here today to give an update on our pandemic EBT program with the goal of making sure that no Tennessee child goes hungry.

Governor Bill Lee:

So first, data in schools. Over the course of August, the vast number of our schools have opened up, many of them in person with the option of online for parents. We know that parents need to have a choice in their children's education, whether it's in person, whether it's in person or online, but data helps inform that choice. And we know that there's a desire for that data, specifically around COVID-19 cases in individual schools. There have been some significant hurdles for us to overcome in this process, but we believe that we have developed a reporting mechanism that will help inform parents to help them make choices. But it doesn't compromise our obligation to parents and to students and to teachers, that obligation to not compromise privacy around their individual health. We have talked extensively with the US Department of Education to develop this reporting mechanism.

Governor Bill Lee:

And we also, by the way, have worked very well with and worked together with districts across our state to develop this, to provide this level of information for students. It's uncharted territory. Most states are still grappling with this. Very few have come to a resolution. But we think we have developed a tool that will be very important for understanding not only how many cases exist in a school, but how this affects attendance, chronic absenteeism, how it affects the academic outcomes of our students. And so Commissioner Schwinn, I think at this point, why don't you come up and give a further detailed report about that reporting mechanism?

Penny Schwinn:

Good afternoon. Thank you for having me. Today, I wanted to provide an update on the department's plans to report additional COVID-19 information at the school and district levels, including numbers of new positive COVID cases. We deeply believe that parents and community members need and deserve to be able to make informed decisions. And the state has worked for weeks to determine a path for providing more information to promote public safety while protecting student privacy. The Department of Education will launch a new dashboard, which will display information reported by districts about COVID-19 in their school communities. The dashboard will include the following: district reported information on the number of new positive COVID-19 cases among students for the prior week and the week before and for staff for the prior week and the week before, include the primary operating model for schools, include the number of schools that are conducting in-person, remote and hybrid instructional models.

Penny Schwinn:

And at the district level, it will also include whether the district has adopted a critical infrastructure designation for certain workers, and a link to the district's continuous learning plan so that families can know what learning will look like in the case of a remote experience. Users who visit the dashboard will have two ways to access the information. They can access it through a map feature where you can pinpoint the district location or the school location on a map. Or they can do it through a drop down menu feature where you can drill down by our core regions or by the district itself.

Penny Schwinn:

And as we've discussed with FERPA, protecting personally identifiable information for our youngest Tennesseans is critically important. We've worked closely with our attorneys, attorneys for the Tennessee Department of Health and the Attorney General's office to determine the approach we can utilize. And the governor has notified the US Department of Education of our plan to provide more information while protecting individual privacy. To ensure those protections exist, schools with fewer than 50 students will not be reported in the dashboard. Schools with fewer than five positive student or employee COVID-19 cases will be listed without a specific number.

Penny Schwinn:

The dashboard will be updated every Friday by local school districts. We anticipate good partnership with our districts to make that data timely and accessible. And as we work through the process, we will address reporting issues and provide support for folks in the field. We've been working incredibly closely with our districts over the last six months, and we continue to have those strong partnerships that will allow us to provide the level of transparency and responsibility with data that we have come to expect.

Penny Schwinn:

And then just in closing, I wanted to say how proud I am of the work that's happening across the state. I had the chance to visit an ASD school as well as Germantown Schools yesterday, and what I've seen is the same thing that I've seen in middle and East Tennessee. Districts are taking every precaution necessary. They are working incredibly hard. Students are engaged in learning and excited to be back in school. We think that this additional data reporting will allow for continued transparency so that families can make the best decision for their students and kids across the state of Tennessee can continue to learn so we accelerate achievement. Thank you so much.

Governor Bill Lee:

Dr. Piercey, I mentioned that we've updated our data reporting or will be around health data. So why don't you give an update on what that will look like?

Lisa Piercey:

Thank you, governor. Good afternoon. I'll preface this by saying I've got a lot of technical details, so hang with me. I want to highlight a milestone in our response. The governor mentioned a tornado six months ago. We also had our first case six months ago tomorrow. When I think back on everything that's happened in the last six months, which admittedly feels like six years a lot of times, one of the things that I'm most proud of is how we've incorporated new information and best practices into our daily work. Not only do these revisions come from observed trends and expert sources like the CDC, they also are the result of incorporated feedback from users of the data on what's most useful and pertinent to them, whether they're using it for personal or professional purposes. So now after about 150,000 cases and over two million tests, we are refreshing our data to reflect these improvements.

Lisa Piercey:

First, the most obvious change that you'll notice is just how our data points are reported or highlighted on our website. None of the former data points are being removed, but you will notice that metrics that are more helpful and actionable will be front and center. For example, instead of highlighting cumulative or total case counts or hospitalizations, we're going to put a bigger focus on day over day change in these numbers to better reflect current state versus historical state. Secondly, you'll notice that our active case count has decreased while our number of inactive or recovered cases has gone up. This stems from an updated timeframe of how long a person is considered infectious. At the beginning of our response, it was pretty widely assumed that a person may be an active infection for up to 21 days, but we've now learned that that period is closer to 10 to 14 days.

Lisa Piercey:

So, in keeping with this new information and to be consistent with best practices from the CDC and other states, we are revising our definition of an active case to 14 days. Please note, this revised calculation does not impact any isolation or quarantine protocols, rather simply how the data are reported. Another change you'll see is the addition of individual county data snapshots. While much of this information has already been available in various spots on our website, this new feature puts several helpful data points all in one spot, including individual counties' epidemic curve, cumulative counts for cases, hospitalizations and deaths, recent versus historical trends and in depth data on testing. And speaking of counties, I want to make you aware of another change that is happening today, just because we have gone through our regular data auditing process. In that regular auditing process, we have identified a total of around 1,700 cases since the very beginning, which is about 1% or maybe a little less, that had mismatched zip codes and county assignments.

Lisa Piercey:

The primary driver of this is zip codes that straddle county lines. And so when we went back and looked at those by the street address itself or through contact tracing, we recognized that some of those were put into the wrong county assignment. Again, this is not 1,700 cases from yesterday or this week. This is since the very beginning. And this had no impact on any individual's isolation, quarantine management, or case investigation. This is just simply to ensure accurate historical information in our documentation. There will be some counties that will have a pretty big jump up or decrease today. And that's just that adjustment. That has nothing to do with active case count.

Lisa Piercey:

And finally, although it doesn't directly pertain to data reporting, I want to highlight one other change that we're going to start making beginning today. Change in the time to be considered a close contact. For several months, the CDC's definition of a close contact was someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for 10 minutes or more. Recently, CDC has transitioned to defining close contact as at least 15 minutes of exposure. Thus, to be consistent with this new standard, beginning today, we will be identifying contacts using the 15 minute exposure metric, which actually may reduce the number of people who have to be in quarantine.

Lisa Piercey:

We're also beginning to change the dozens, if not hundreds, of references in printed and online documents that reflect this change. So you'll see those updates coming soon. We hope that you find these updated data points to be useful and helpful. And once again, thanks for all you're doing to keep us moving in the right direction. Thank you.

Governor Bill Lee:

Commissioner Barnes, if you would come up please and give information on our pandemic EBT work, as we serve vulnerable families.

Danielle Barnes:

Thank you, governor. As many of you all know, we've been talking about PEBT, Pandemic EBT, for some time. And this program is a program that aids families of children who receive free or reduced lunch, or they attend a community eligible school through the National School Lunch Program. And this program gives them the benefits for each day that school was not open due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the things we know for sure is that families really depend on these meals to support them during this time. And we've worked very, very diligently to make sure that we can distribute these benefits to these families. Now, when we talk about PEBT, I want us to think about it in terms of two rounds. And that's what I want to share with you all today. The first round is what I've been here before you all before to talk about.

Danielle Barnes:

And that is the one for the previous school year, 2019 through 2020. Round two is for the school year that just started, so 2020 to 2021. Round one was originally done through an application process. We also distributed those benefits directly to students and families who were known to us who are current SNAP or TANF recipients. This application process allowed us to make sure that we could distribute those dollars directly to the students and their families to make sure that we had the proper addresses, to make sure we didn't have any instances of fraud or abuse of these dollars. And we were one of the few states that did do the application process, and we think that we made tremendous progress. I will tell you that through that application process, we were able to serve over 550,000 students or 500,000 students. And we believe that we made pretty good reach. That's well over half of the students across the state of Tennessee. Unfortunately, there are approximately about 200,000 students that we did not reach.

Danielle Barnes:

And we don't know if that's because they did not want the benefit or need the benefit. But we decided to devise a plan to get those benefits closer to the student's actual home. And this is a process that I want to be very careful that when we talk about this, we talk about it in terms of this is our plan. We have submitted it to the department, the USDA, and it is pending approval with them right now. So we're still sort of in the beginning phases of this. We do anticipate that we'll get an answer from them soon. But Tennessee is really thinking outside of the box as we try to distribute these benefits closer to those families. With our plan, our hope is that we will get a student who wants a benefit, can send them to the school where they were last enrolled, and the family can then go to that school, pick up the card if they need them.

Danielle Barnes:

If the student doesn't want the benefit or doesn't need the benefit, the school can then send them back to us and we will destroy them to avoid any of that impropriety of those benefits. I think it's also important to note that for round two, it's a lot more tricky. So round two was August and September. Schools aren't closing for months on end. They are closing for days. They are virtual, they are hybrid, they are delayed. And the federal requirements around this particular round are much more confusing and much more stringent. And again, it's an opportunity. Our plan presented to the USDA we think can help us maneuver through some of this. Due to the tight timeline, and again, all of these dollars have to be spent by September 30th, we are going to be wanting to work with our local school districts to identify and confirm students who qualify and have them help us distribute those EBT cards.

Danielle Barnes:

To qualify, I think it's important to note for August and September, a student must attend a virtual school or attend a school that was closed for five days or more. And then here's the tricky part. And they have to be unable to pick up the meals from their school. Local districts we hope we'll be able to help us identify and verify the students that meet the above qualifications before distributing those cards. And again, families can opt out of this program if they choose, if they don't necessarily need the benefit. And we will destroy those cards as well.

Danielle Barnes:

I think it's also important to note, and I think you all have all reported on a couple of school districts taking advantage of the department's newest waiver, which came in from FNS this morning, the Food Nutrition Services, a division of the USDA, which allows schools to continue to operate SFSP, Summer Food Service Program. I think that's really tricky to say. But that allows them to continue to provide meals free of charge to students through December 31st. And so that is another opportunity that is available to students to help them during this time. So we are looking forward to feeding our kids. We're looking forward to supporting our families. And thank you, governor, for allowing the update.

Governor Bill Lee:

Before we get started on questions, I want to just acknowledge the encouraging news that we're hearing nationally about the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine being ready by November. The federal government's reached out already to states to begin the planning process for distribution for the time when a safe and effective vaccine is made available. There are many miles to go before a vaccine is ready to be approved, but at the request of the Trump Administration, we are working to develop a distribution plan in our state so that those who want a vaccine can get it. It's very early in the process, but our unified command group is currently working through the logistics of that should a vaccine be made available.

Governor Bill Lee:

The COVID vaccine ultimately will be a personal choice for individuals that should be made in consultation with their doctor. But I believe that development of a vaccine is a very hopeful prospect, and it certainly will be good for lives and livelihoods, but it's also a testament to American innovation. So, we look forward to those days. I want to move on to question and answer now. Besides the commissioners that have made a presentation, we also have Commissioner Parker from Department of Correction to talk about our testing plan for our prisons. Commissioner McCord is here to talk about unemployment, unemployment benefits and members of our Unified-Command Group are here as well to answer any questions. So be happy to start with questions, [inaudible].

Speaker 1:

Hi, governor. Thanks for chatting with us today. I have a few questions, but first you were talking about the vaccines and how it's a personal choice. Once the vaccine is available, would you consider getting vaccinated with COVID-19-

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I'll do what I think every Tennessean will do and determine if they believe it's safe and effective vaccine, and then talk to my doctor about it.

Speaker 1:

So we're not there yet?

Governor Bill Lee:

I'm sorry.

Speaker 1:

We are not there yet [crosstalk].

Governor Bill Lee:

That's right. Certainly.

Speaker 1:

So I have another question, governor. CoreCivic facilities now account for about 80% of the coronavirus cases and more than half of the COVID-19 related deaths in the state prison system, even though they only house about a third of Tennessee's prisoners. Will the state be investigating what allowed this to happen and does it cast any doubt on whether their contracts will be continued?

Governor Bill Lee:

What the state's going to do is, we're in the middle of this and we're certainly going to watch data and determine steps forward. What we're doing right now is developing a protocol for all of our prisons to make sure that we provide testing, that we find cases, that we mitigate spread within prisons. We want to make sure that our approach to finding and mitigating spread occurs in prisons as well as outside in the general population, and we'll do that through our private providers, through the prisons that we operate ourselves, and then we will watch data as it unfolds.

Speaker 1:

Do you have any concerns specifically about the CoreCivic facilities?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think my concern is just that, whether it's a CoreCivic facility or the state facility, that we approach this in a way that's going to best mitigate spread, and we'll do that regardless of whether it's a CoreCivic or a state run prison. And then, like I said, we'll look at data as it develops.

Speaker 1:

My last question to you, governor, your COVID liability law, the one that you pushed for and that you signed, I'm wondering if it will protect private providers like CoreCivic from lawsuits, or if people will be able to sue them for misconduct, especially the loved ones of those who have died at their facilities.

Governor Bill Lee:

I think the law has provisions for gross negligence that would apply for any business or any institution or any individual. It protects businesses, it protects institutions, it protects livelihoods, but it also makes sure that bad actors are held responsible, and that's the goal of that legislation. I think it's set up to accomplish that.

Speaker 1:

Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Hi, governor. One of my colleagues asked, I think was last week or maybe the week before about changing the protocol for nursing homes so people are able to get visited more frequently or at all. You said you were working on that. Do you have any update that you could provide on that today?

Governor Bill Lee:

Dr. Piercey, you want to make a comment on that? So there's two components, and I said it that day, CMS actually determines the vast majority of COVID-19 protocol. They require certain thresholds to be met. We have a component of that that's our requirement as well. That's the part we're working on, but we're waiting for CMS guidance. What we don't want to do is create a change and then a week later, create another change. If we can avoid that in any instance. At the same time, like we said, it's really important that we understand the struggle that those in isolation in nursing homes have. And that's why we're pushing for this change. But can you add to that?

Lisa Piercey:

Yeah. The governor's exactly right. We're feeling the clock tick too because these folks have been isolated and are missing out on time with their loved ones. So we're motivated to get it done quickly. I had a call on the evening of August 17th with Administrator Verma from CMS, and she mentioned that two things were coming out in, quote, a matter of days. One was CMS' revision of staff testing, and that has already come out. And the other one was CMS' update on their restrictions as it pertains to visitation. So that was a couple three weeks ago and one of those changes has already come out. I expect the other one to be eminent. As the governor described, we're in this bit of a no man's land where we don't want to put something out there that we're going to have to go back and change a week or two later if CMS comes out, but we can't wait much longer.

Lisa Piercey:

So we're trying to get as far down the road as we can, but if we don't get that guidance from CMS soon, we're going to have to make a move.

Speaker 2:

And I have a high level question for you, Dr. Piercey, and maybe I missed it when you first spoke. What is it that you've learned or why now change how the data is reported? From a very high level, what is that tangible new knowledge that we have?

Lisa Piercey:

The primary change from information that we've learned since the beginning is how long a person is actually infectious. And so that prompted our change from the active case definition from 21 days to 14 days. You remember very early in this process, we didn't have a lot of precedent to go on just some of the SARS viruses and MERS viruses that were experienced overseas a few years ago. Those have a longer infectious period. And so when we started, this was sort of extrapolated from that, but as we've had more cases and have learned more, we know it's actually shorter than that. And so we wanted to be proactive and change that because that not only helps get people sort of moving around a little bit quicker, it helps give us a more accurate assessment of what our active infectious case count is.

Speaker 2:

And if you don't mind, Commissioner Schwinn, can I ask you one question as well, just about the states now feeling comfortable that privacy is protected, that I guess there is not going to be, through the release of data, the ability to unmask student or a particular cluster of cases. And I know there was a bunch of questions about this a couple of weeks ago, but can you say again, what is it that changed that now makes you more confident? Aside from just the creation of this new dashboard, what is it?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Yeah. So I think to start, we are in unprecedented times. And so one of the things that I think is our responsibility is to make sure that we balance the need for transparency with the privacy, especially of our children. And so over the course of the last several weeks and months, we've been looking at that balance with FERPA and HIPAA and then what we can release and why. And so taking that approach of making sure we consult with the appropriate attorneys, we've talked through all the different levels of that, making sure we submit that, kind of what our state plan is to different levels of government and making sure that we've covered those bases. I do feel confident that with the thresholds that we've set, we'll know more if we have schools that are less than 50 students and if we have positive cases that are less than five, that we've done our role in making sure that that's masked and that we've suppressed that data appropriately.

Commissioner Schwinn:

So I do feel comfortable with the decisions that have been made in this time.

Speaker 3:

Hi, two questions about vaccines. Dr. Piercey, in the conversations with federal officials about the potential November vaccine rollout, can you talk a little bit about what that would look like? Are we looking at a broad disbursement or priority disbursement? And if so, whose priority?

Lisa Piercey:

Sure. The short answer is a lot of that's still being worked out, but we have been notified that we may get a few hundred thousand doses. That's not an exact number and we don't have an exact timeframe, but it will not be millions and millions of doses in November or December. It will be a phased rollout. And the federal government is giving us guidance on how to prioritize that. It's actually not terribly dissimilar from other vaccine prioritization. Healthcare workers, vulnerable populations will be first and then go down the line from there.

Speaker 3:

Do you know which vaccine we're talking about?

Lisa Piercey:

We have not been told that. We have been told that there may be two of them, two different kinds, but we have not been told the names.

Speaker 3:

Okay. So the governor mentioned a moment ago that we are miles away from having a vaccine. November 1st is two months away. The New York Times reported today that it seems likely that the vaccines that are in that discussion is the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, both of which started phase three trials in the city last month and those are multi-year trials. So what level of confidence do either of you have that by November 1st, less than two months away, you will be confident enough that the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine or another vaccine will be safe enough for Tennesseans to take it? Because I think we all know that this is a schedule that is wholly unusual in vaccine development.

Lisa Piercey:

Yeah, you're right. I will caution you that I'd take that November 1st with a grain of salt. First of all, nobody said November 1st. For us, they've said November, and sometimes timeframes get pushed a little. So we'll just take that as a loose timeframe. Your points were made on safety and efficacy. There has been this balance all along of trying to get something out quickly for very obvious reasons, but also doing it in the safest and most effective manner possible. And I'm not sure if you caught it, but what the governor said was incredibly important. Everyone's personal decision when it comes to vaccines should be a full assessment of their belief of safety and efficacy of that. And we're going to help provide counsel on that, but that is a personal decision that people and their doctors need to make for themselves.

Speaker 6:

[inaudible].

Speaker 3:

Yes, I'm sorry. So I think in this country, we could have a debate over every vaccine being a personal choice where people debate about the safety. But I'm curious if you guys are describing this particular vaccine and the circumstances where it would come to market so quickly as a distinguishably differed personal choice that should consider the safety in the research.

Lisa Piercey:

I think safety and efficacy of all vaccines should be considered by individuals. This one is not substantively different. And I would really like to give you more details, I just don't know them. We don't know which ones they are. We don't have the data on their clinical efficacy yet. They're in phase three trials, which means that safety has been relatively well established. Efficacy right now, particularly amongst different populations is what's being studied. So the phase three trials will not be finished by November, but in an effort to expedite distribution, limited quantities are going to be available.

Speaker 3:

Thank you.

Speaker 4:

I'll give you a break, Dr. Piercey. No, no, no. This question, I would like an answer from both the governor and Commissioner Schwinn. Regarding releasing data about COVID cases in schools, the Department of Education even noted in their press release that most school districts are going to be reopened, the last two are reopening next week. Was part of maybe the delay of releasing data in hopes to make sure we got more students back into the classroom and didn't alarm parents before schools reopened, and that's why maybe we didn't see this data being released sooner?

Governor Bill Lee:

There's a real balance, as we've said, between transparency and protecting privacy. And as we said, there were several hurdles that we thought were appropriate to follow through, including working and communicating with the Department of Education and with those organizations and attorneys that understand the importance of privacy through FERPA and HIPAA. So that's a process, it's taken weeks. It's the reason why very few states have done this yet because it is a complicated process, but we've worked really hard over the last few weeks to get it done. But the process has been intentional and it's been purposeful to get to the point where we are today.

Speaker 4:

Commissioner Schwinn, do you want to add anything or? Okay. My other question, governor, is we've seen a little bit of criticism from some lawmakers about Commissioner Schwinn, some questions about how the department has rolled out help and support to school districts. Do you have a comment or how are you feeling about your education leader?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think our state has in many ways been a leader in the opening of schools, and in doing so in a way that gives parents the choice to go online, if they feel like that's the safest way to go, but to also give parents the option for in-person. I said a couple of weeks ago that this is one of the most challenging things that we have faced in this pandemic is the reopening of schools in a safe way that protects parents and students, but allows for in-person option. Our Department of Education has worked tirelessly with school districts to get this done. We feel very encouraged about where we are in that process. So I'm proud of the work that's happening, not only in the department, but it's happening most importantly with districts, with superintendents, with parents to make sure that our kids have the best outcomes, education that they can get.

Speaker 5:

Thank you for taking our questions today. Today, the ad hoc committee on emergency powers met for the second time and your staff had testified before that committee that you believe that the emergency power should not be changed. Could you comment a little on that and then also comment on your criteria for ending the state of emergency?

Governor Bill Lee:

Criteria for what?

Speaker 5:

For bringing the state of emergency to an end.

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. So the state of emergency decisions are made based broadly on what's best for Tennesseans we believe going forward in the midst of a pandemic. We're in the midst of a pandemic and these are unchartered waters. We have not faced this in decades. We do believe and we do know we have had opinion from the attorney general, from the former US attorney general, from a former justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, that the decisions that have been made have fallen within the constitutional authority. The ad hoc committee is doing what they should do, which is review this unprecedented process to make sure that we're all working together in the way that we should. They too recognize, I think, we're in the middle of this and here's much to be learned, but it's an inappropriate process and we work together with them to make sure that we get all the answers that they have, that we can answer all the questions they have.

Speaker 5:

And what criteria will you consider to end the state of emergency?

Governor Bill Lee:

When we believe that ending it will ultimately make for the best decision. So there are, as we've outlined before when we extended it this last 30 days, we talked about the reasons we did that, for flexibility, for healthcare workers in the midst of this, for the ability, for example, for government officials and government authorities and bodies to meet remotely, things that are important while you're in the midst of a pandemic. And when those are no longer needed, then there will not be a need for that any longer.

Speaker 5:

I also have a question for Commissioner Schwinn about the education child well-being checks. The department has claimed repeatedly about the child well-being checks program, that it was never intended to apply to all students. But internal documents and emails sent by the department in the development of that document, show that it was always intended to check on every Tennessee child. Could you comment on where that goal came from, and then also clarify any clarification on the department's stance on that?

Speaker 8:

Sure. So to be clear, it's a toolkit document, it's not a program. The intent is that we have vulnerable students across the state who have not been in school for six months. Schools, as you well know, are places where many of our students receive breakfast, lunch, and sometimes supper, mental health services, and other supports. The goal is to make sure as a school community, that we provide students with a high quality academic education. That is and will be the priority of the Department of Education.

Commissioner Schwinn:

This toolkit, like the 40 something that came before it, was intended to give districts a guide, a toolkit to be able to make local decisions about what makes the most sense for their students. And that will, like everything else, remain a local decision.

Speaker 7:

So were all children not always intended to be part of that process, or was the document incorrect in stating that?

Commissioner Schwinn

Just to be clear, there is no process, it's a toolkit. So all of our toolkits have been optional. We've put out things around nutrition, transportation, academics, every little thing that a school district or a school might possibly face in their regular programming at the local level. So certainly when that toolkit was produced, and again, that has been taken down, that was intended to be looked at, at the local level for optional use. And locals make the best decision for their schools, just like parents make the best decision for their children.

Speaker 7:

And do you know when a revised version of the document will be released?

Commissioner Schwinn:

There's no timeline on that.

Speaker 9:

Governor, can you talk a little bit about the time at the White House at this president's speech for the RNC? And then can you tell us a little bit, give us a little bit of background about how they kept y'all safe while you were there when there's a pandemic going on?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, I was inspired by the stories of a lot of real Americans that love their country and came away from there with really a new appreciation for this country and how it is, I believe the greatest country in the world and how we have great challenges ahead of us, but that we are in the process of becoming a more perfect union. That's what I came away from, from that evening.

Governor Bill Lee:

And so regarding safety, Maria and I wore a mask into the event and we more wear a mask out of the event, whenever we felt like we were in a place that was not safe for us from an exposure to COVID in our seats. The seats were distanced, it was an outdoor event. So that's how we made our decisions. Like everyone makes personal, responsible decisions about that. That was the takeaway from my night. That was the inspiration I got about how it is that we need to work together and make this country an even better place to live.

Joey Garrison:

Hello, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Joel, I understand your-

Joey Garrison:

Second to last day here.

Governor Bill Lee:

Making a decision to take your professional career-

Joey Garrison:

Taking my talents [crosstalk] not to South Beach, but to Chicago, I guess.

Governor Bill Lee:

It's been a great couple of years.

Joey Garrison:

It has.

Governor Bill Lee:

In all seriousness, we wish you the very best in your endeavors and trust that it will be a new chapter for you that professionally, will give you opportunities.

Joey Garrison:

Sorry, we'll get on-

Governor Bill Lee:

What? No. [crosstalk] I mean, I've been with this guy on and off for two or three years now.

Joey Garrison:

It's true. We'll get to that. We'll get to that. So the first question I have for you, while I understand your view of COVID-19 being a personal choice for vaccines, how would it work for kids, for students? There's a bevy of vaccines that children must take to get into school, would they be required to take those?

Governor Bill Lee:

So actually, you can reference this, but our understanding from the federal government so far, is that the vaccines that may be available, are actually not going to be available for children. That's accurate, correct? So they're testing populations and efficacy. And our understanding is from what we know about this, and it's actually very little because they've just started telling us, but it looks like the vaccines that are currently available that are going to be the first ones out of the shoot, are not intended for use by children.

Joey Garrison:

Okay.

Governor Bill Lee:

Is there anything to add to that?

Lisa Piercey:

Just children and pregnant women. All of the studies that are currently ongoing, do not include children or pregnant women. So in any first round or maybe second or third round, they will not be included.

Joey Garrison:

Okay. And then to go back to the president's event at the RNC, Phil showed a photo online that looked like the seats weren't very far apart; this far apart, and it looked like you didn't have a mask on at one point. Why were you comfortable, I guess, going to this, given this pandemic? And I think a couple of weeks ago, you said you didn't have any plans to go to the RNC, when I asked you about it.

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, then I got an invitation from the president and I took that invitation and was, like I said, inspired to be there. And again, once we were in our seats, we felt safe. The seats were distanced and it was outdoors and there was a breeze and that's why we felt safe.

Joey Garrison:

Have you been tested since you attended?

Governor Bill Lee:

I have actually.

Joey Garrison:

And I assume everything's on the up and up?

Governor Bill Lee:

It's personal information, but I don't think I'd be standing here if it were not, otherwise.

Joey Garrison:

On the issue of transparency, related to the latest announcement about school data, overall, your administration has at time struggled with this issue of transparency. There's been a couple of times on COVID-19 data releasing. Multiple times, your administration has referenced deliberative process and executives privilege. At the same time, you've moved forward on a promise, or you haven't moved forward on a promise review of public records requests and exemptions.

Joey Garrison:

So why is it at times it appearing that your administration is, the instinct is to clamp down on releasing information and not the other way around?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. So the way I have for my entire life through business, and even in this job, for me, you assimilate the information that you have and you make a decision based on that information. And even if you want to go beyond that, you push but you make a decision. Then you take another step and you build upon that decision; make a stronger decision. It's why you might move to a stronger place. And then you make another decision because you know more, you get more information with regard to school.

Governor Bill Lee:

You talked about COVID data, you get more information from FERPA, HIPAA, Department of Education. You watch and talk to other states about what they're doing. These are decisions that no one's made before, particular to this virus. So that's the way I have tried to operate throughout the pandemic. As you've seen things change, we've watched this pandemic change and you've seen my decisions change.

Governor Bill Lee:

My hope and belief is that they strengthen. For example, with this one, I said weeks ago that we want to provide as much transparency as possible, but we want to do so in a way that overcomes the hurdles one step at a time, and that's where we are today.

Joey Garrison:

And the last question I have for you, you alluded to-

Governor Bill Lee:

Is this the very last question you'll ever ask me?

Joey Garrison:

This is, for me. You announced your candidacy with me in my paper with Joey Garrison. What do you want to share today about 2022? Do you want to share with my friends here? Are you running for re-election?

Governor Bill Lee:

Oh, I love this job. It's been a big challenge, but I love serving Tennesseans and I intend to do that as long as they'll let me.

Joey Garrison:

Is that a yes?

Governor Bill Lee:

That's a yes.

Joey Garrison:

Okay. There you go. [inaudible]

Speaker 10:

Governor, a question, just a follow up on the RNC. You were seated, it looked like certainly less than six feet apart. You were not wearing a mask. And yet, you have suggested that Tennesseans not attend large gatherings. You have an executive order that says high school football fans must follow TSSAA rules, which require masks outdoors. Why should people do what you say rather than what you did?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that what I did was look at the situation we were in and make a decision based on whether or not those seats were distanced. The wind is blowing it was outdoors. I have that decision to make, every one of us do. I've said all along, this is a personal responsibility that Tennesseans should take. And yes, people should wear a mask where they believe they can't be appropriately safe, with regard to close contact. So that's the decision we made that night. And I think it was the right one for me and for Maria.

Speaker 10:

Given that stance, why should Tennesseans heed your admonitions to practice social distancing and wear masks?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah, because that's the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus. And Tennesseans should take personal responsibility for that and make those decisions on their own, but they should do so in a way that understands that by doing those things, they'll protect themselves and their neighbors.

Speaker 10:

And then a quick question about the prisons, because we had almost this identical conversation back in April, when you talked about having a plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons. Will you admit there has been a serious breakdown in what you had promised, and do you know what that breakdown was?

Governor Bill Lee:

Yeah. We actually mass tested our prisons when we first, and we're one of the first states to do so. We've had a continuous protocol for testing in prisons. And we recently had an outbreak that was significant that you know of from this week, which prompted us to actually increase our strategy for testing. That's a very difficult population in which to mitigate the spread because of the congregate living.

Governor Bill Lee:

But I feel like we haven't wavered from our commitment to those that are incarcerated and to our commitment to making sure that we pursue cases as we find them. And then when we believe there may be even greater spread in a facility, that's the protocol that we're using to find it.

Speaker 10:

Just quickly, why were you not able to prevent this outbreak, given those protocols?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think outbreaks travel quickly through prisons and when we find them, we pursue them. As you know, across the country, there've been enormous outbreaks in prisons. It's a real challenge because of the congregate living and the rapid nature with which the virus spreads in prisons.

Governor Bill Lee:

So I feel good about our process. It's very unfortunate what happens in prison settings, but we're doing what we can to mitigate that.

Speaker 11:

Well, Governor I too wish Joel well, if I can take personal time here, but well, not today.

Governor Bill Lee:

You can have extra time [crosstalk] if you wanted to say nice things about Joel.

Speaker 11:

This is a question for Commissioner Piercey and this is about the vaccines. And my question is, is this not a really daunting task and potentially giving people false hope about something? And all of a sudden, you get a phone call one day from the feds and they say, "Get ready for this." I mean, how do you characterize this?

Lisa Piercey:

To be clear-

Speaker 11:

And can you get ready?

Lisa Piercey:

To be clear, it is both daunting, yes. And we didn't get just a random call the other day saying, "Oh, Hey, by the way, you need to start working on this." This is something that we've been planning for; we'd got more details recently. But I'll point you back to, this is not dissimilar to when we do mass vaccinations for influenza or other events.

Speaker 11:

Yeah. But those are very proven methods and techniques that took years to research and test. This is something that we can't even say which vaccine we might be looking at.

Lisa Piercey:

Yeah. I was answering your question from a logistical standpoint.

Speaker 11:

Okay.

Lisa Piercey:

That second part of your question conflates safety and efficacy with logistics. I'm talking about the logistics of just distribution. There's a lot we don't know yet and there's interest, there's an enormous amount of interest. And we're learning as fast as we can, but it's going to be a while before we have all of the answers.

Speaker 11:

Fair enough. And I also have a question for Commissioner McCord and unemployment, and this will be about the FEMA money. And there have been calls I'm sure you have gotten, and I'm sure that all the news and media outlets have gotten about that money and how many people are getting it, and how many people are still going to get some of that. Do you have those kinds of figures?

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

Yes. So I think we have distributed the first round, the first week of money. And the way this works, is you have to basically reapply every week. And we have reapplied for the week of the 22nd. The issue we're having right now, is being one of the first states to distribute these benefits. We're having to plow new ground with FEMA. It's new to them, it's new to us. And so we were hopeful that we would be able to distribute the second round of benefits as early as this week.

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

But unfortunately, it looks like it's going to slide into next week before we get those funds. And so there's a process of us applying and them allocating funds based on what they think we would need, because as other states come on, even if they're not distributing the funds, they're basically reserving the funds.

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

And so, like I say, the application has been, and we're hopeful that we'll get the funding after the holiday weekend and distribute it that following week.

Speaker 11:

So I mean, the figure I think we're all using, is a couple of 100,000 Tennesseeans who might qualify for this. Will they all get something, do we think?

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

Well, so-

Speaker 11:

If they qualify with-

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

Yes, if they qualify with, have a COVID effected and that sort of thing. We have to make sure and that's the iterative process with FEMA that we have the funds to pay the claims that we have. And so that's part of what takes a little time for FEMA and a little time, mostly as we give them information. And again, they haven't done this a lot either. My guess is when they get to the 25th and 26th and 27th state, that's doing this, it'll go faster. But right now, again, we're plowing new ground with them because we are one of the first few states who are actually distributing this.

Speaker 11:

But what was going around quickly and obviously, you heard this, is the money's gone from a lot of-

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

So again, our best estimate, and I think we've said this from the beginning, is five to seven weeks. We're getting an estimate now, getting pinpoint that if the states who have participated at 6.2 weeks, and so, that's between five and seven weeks. But no, again, I would caution that we're looking mid-September, September to where those weeks, because we've already distributed three weeks. And so it looks like the most we'll have, unless something happens at the congressional level, is another three weeks of the FEMA funding.

Speaker 11:

Thank you for clarifying.

Commissioner Jeff McCord:

Thank you.

Speaker 12:

Governor, that's the time we have today.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you all. Appreciate your being here and reporting out the information that Tennesseeans need to know. We'll see you again soon.