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Tennessee governor rejects coronavirus task force advice to close bars, mandate masks

Testing concerns grow as COVID-19 cases climb
Concerns over federal testing response mount as COVID-19 cases climb 03:40

Nashville — Tennessee stands at the cusp at being able to significantly decrease new cases of the coronavirus and must take stronger steps to prevent its spread, warned White House COVID-19 task force leader Deborah Birx, who met with state and local health leaders Monday in Nashville.

Birx recently identified Nashville as one of 11 cities with a surge in coronavirus cases that need aggressive action while noting that many of the state's rural areas have seen a worrisome outbreak.

"We've done a lot of modeling and we have found that if you all wear a mask — all Tennesseans — in every public area and you stop going to bars, and in fact close the bars, and limit your indoor dining, that we can have as big of an impact on decreasing new cases as we had with sheltering in place," Birx told reporters.

"Tennessee is at that inflection point," Birx said.

However, her remarks fell flat with Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has vowed he won't shut down the state's economy again and has resisted repeated calls to issue a statewide mask mandate.

According to CBS affiliate News Channel 5 in Nashville, Lee said after his meeting with Birx on Monday that, "beyond the regions that currently have restrictions, that's not a plan for us now."

"I've said from the very beginning of this pandemic that there's nothing off the table. I've also said that we are not going to close the economy back down, and we are not going to. But I appreciate their recommendations and we take them seriously," the governor said of the coronavirus task force's advice. 

Lee defended his decision to leave mask mandates in the hands of local officials, saying, according to News Channel 5, that if he believed a statewide order would help, he would issue one.

People wear masks because they believe that there is a reason to do so and I believe they will increasingly understand that as their local officials advocate for that," he said.

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