Gov. Bill Lee calls COVID-19 spike in Tennessee ‘a real crisis’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is in a real COVID crisis. Gov. Bill Lee shared that message Tuesday but said she still won’t consider a statewide mask mandate to slow the spread of the pandemic.

The governor’s message comes as Shelby County recorded its highest number of positive cases in one day. The availability of ICU beds is running low.

“Oh, we have a real crisis," said Lee. "I can assure Tennesseans that we have a real crisis.”

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Lee made the comments during an afternoon news conference where he warned people to use common sense during the upcoming holiday. Scale back the family gatherings, stay at home if you are sick, and get tested if you think have contracted the virus, advised the governor.

Lee said he believes his administration is trying to tackle the pandemic with expanded testing, funding for overflow hospitals, and a system to distribute the vaccine. But he admitted there are challenges ahead such as what to do when hospital surge capacity is filled.

The state is not there yet but inching closer with nearly 7,800 new cases reported Monday and more than 1,900 people hospitalized as of Tuesdayday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health website.

Shelby County reported last night it had only had 47 available ICU beds in hospitals within the neighboring counties that include Mississippi and Arkansas.

Two overflow hospitals located in Memphis and Nashville are ready to be used.

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“We are not there yet. We know that at the current trajectory there will be a day when we will get there but it is impossible to predict when that will be,” said Gov. Lee.

A concern for the Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey is both the physical and emotional health of hospital employees such as doctors and nurses.

“We also have the real possibility of burnout. And health care workers are burning the candle at both ends,” said Piercey.

Commissioner Piercey said the number of hospital beds is a fluid situation because it can go up and down as people in ICU are moved when they get better. Piercey said the goal is to surge in place, meaning hospitals should use existing bed space before turning to the overflow sites.

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