United StatesTennessee

As COVID-19 hospitalizations remain steady, Lee says he will not shut down businesses again

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions during a news conference Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

(The Center Square) – Despite a record-high number of COVID-19 cases reported in Tennessee this week, Gov. Bill Lee is not considering another economic shutdown.

“I never want to close down businesses again,” Lee said Tuesday. “And one of the ways that we can do that is by mitigating the spread of the virus. And there’s pretty good evidence that wearing masks mitigates the spread of that virus. So I encourage any Tennessean to engage in wearing masks.”

The Tennessee Department of Health reported Monday a record number of COVID-19 cases in one day: 3,314. The previous record of 2,472 was set July 7.

The test positivity rate also reached a new high at 9.12 percent. Previous highest positivity rates were recorded the week of April 4 at 8.45 percent and last week at 8.46 percent. The department reported another 1,514 cases Tuesday.

Health Department Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said while climbing case counts can cause “sticker shock,” a more useful indicator to examine is hospital capacity.

Tennessee currently has 870 hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide, and the hospitalization rate has hovered in the 9 percent range. More than 2,630 hospital beds remain available in the state, and more than 400 ICU beds are available. Sixty-nine percent of the state’s ventilators are available for use.

“There are no hospitals in this state that are currently in crisis mode due to availability,” Piercey said. “However, in our metro areas, specifically Memphis and Nashville, but quite frankly in all six of our metro areas where our large health systems are, they’re starting to feel some strain from the increased hospitalization and ICU rates.”

In a bad flu season, Piercey said, health care systems have faced much more serious capacity challenges than what COVID-19 currently presents in Tennessee. The department is in daily contact with hospital leaders and the hospital association to coordinate.

Lee has ordered that county mayors can mandate mask wearing within their counties, but he reiterated Tuesday he will not issue a statewide mask order. He encouraged Tennesseans to wear a mask, not as a political statement, but as a personal decision.

“There has been an awful lot of political talk about masks,” Lee said, holding up his mask. “This mask right here is not conservative, is not liberal. Shaming someone for wearing a mask or shaming someone for not wearing a mask is just not something that Tennesseans ought to be in the business of doing. It’s a simple, personal decision that just might save an elderly person’s life in this state.”

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