Ahead of holidays, Tennessee spurns mask mandate requests

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FILE – In this July 1, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee removes his mask as he begins a news conference in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee was one of the first states to begin reopening in late April after Lee reluctantly issued a safer-at-home order that forced businesses to close. Since then, case numbers have continued to rise in part due to more testing, but also because of an increase in community spread of the disease. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As health experts ring alarm bells at the growing virus case numbers, Tennessee is poised to be just one of 14 states heading into the holiday season without a statewide mask mandate.

Governor Bill Lee has left the decision about mask mandates to county leaders and said Tennesseans must take personal responsibility when it comes to mitigating the spread of the virus.

He has also vowed he will not impose business restrictions nor issue guidance on how families should gather for next week’s Thanksgiving. The Republican has remained steadfast that he’s open to all options to battling the conronavirus.

“(For) now, what we believe is the strategy we are taking is actually working,” the Associated Press reported Lee as saying during a news briefing this week. “It may well be working better than a statewide mask mandate would work.”

“Let me just say, we’re not going to mandate how a family gathers at Thanksgiving. I want to be real clear about that,” Lee added. “But what we will do is encourage Tennesseans to think hard about that.”

Meanwhile, prominent doctors at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University of Medical College have called for federal and statewide mask mandates.

The total COVID-19 case count for Tennessee is 325,201 as of Wednesday, Nov. 18. That is an increase of 4,472 cases since the day before.

There have been 4,048 deaths, an increase of 53 new deaths.

There are 1,981 current hospitalizations and 279,931 inactive/recovered.

The Shelby County Health Department reported 43,833 cases Wednesday, an increase of 192 cases. This comes a day after the department reported an increase of more than 800 cases, a single-day record.

There have been 617 deaths with four new deaths reported in the last 24 hours.

As of Wednesday, there are currenlty 397 COVID-19 positive patients being treated at hospitals in Shelby County. On Monday there were 335.

That is of note for health officials because, combined with the non-COVID patients, hospitals are currently operating at 91 percent utilization when it comes to acute care. In the ICU departments, it’s 89 percent.

The Shelby County Health Department told the Shelby County Commission Wednesday that they will be making some announcements on Friday.

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