© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gov. Lee Limits Indoor Public Gatherings; Shelby County 'Safer at Home' Order Pending

TN Photo Service (File photo)


In a rare statewide address Sunday night, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee escalated his pleas for Tennesseans to follow COVID-19 guidelines to slow the spread of the virus. It’s now spreading faster and killing more people each day than the state has previously experienced.

Lee also issued a new executive order to restrict some — but not all — indoor public gatherings to 10 people and to limit spectators at indoor youth sporting events.

He’s also urging companies to allow employees to work from home, and he issued a plea that people only spend time with members of their household for the next month.

"It only took a matter of days to see gatherings around Thanksgiving translate into a record level of sickness," he said during Sunday's roughly six-minute address. "Tennesse cannot sustain a similar surge after Christmas or New Years. So tonight I am asking you to make some hard decisions." 

However, while the governor said everyone should wear a mask and commended counties that have issued mask mandates, he declined to issue one himself. That's despite demands from a chorus of policy makers and medical professionalsto mandate a uniform mask policy for the state.

The executive order to limit gatherings is Lee’s first major public policy change in recent months. It does the following:

  • Encourage remote work-from-home whenever possible.
  • Restrict indoor public gatherings to fewer than 10 people — with many exceptions. The rule does allow multiple groups up to 10 to occupy a single place or venue as long as each group is distanced from others. And it does not apply to worship services, weddings or funerals, nor does it mention private household gatherings.
  • Ban spectators from youth athletic events, although a range of administrators, coaches, parents, media and athletic scouts are allowed.

Tennessee now has the highest infection rate in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the active case count has grown by more than two-thirds in the last week alone. 

The governor's announcement comes as Shelby County, the state's most populous, considers placing its residents under a 'Safer at Home' order similar to restrictions enacted earlier this spring at the onset of the pandemic.   

As of Sunday night, the Shelby County Health Department had not officially announced new regulations, which could last for two weeks. But a draft copy of the latest health directive circulated Saturday indicating that non-essential businesses, including restaurants, could have to limit their services.

In a statement, the health department said discussions with local leaders regarding the restrictions are still underway and that the effective date of the draft order, December 21, is not certain. 


“Locally, we have continued to work together to explore all options that can reduce transmission while balancing economic impact,” the health department statement reads. “As the document is finalized, it will be released to the media via the formal, traditional channels.”

Restaurants could still offer curbside or takeout but would have to close their dining rooms to the public, according to the draft directive. Retailers, outside of those offering groceries or other necessities, would also need to pivot to curbside.  

Meanwhile, in a press briefing Sunday afternoon, health officials released additional details about hospital capacity. Nearly 3,000 people are now hospitalized, continuing an upward trend that began in September. COVID-positive patients now fill a quarter of all hospital beds statewide and a larger share in some regions.

Although vaccinations of health care workers have begun, staffing shortages are still dire.

“If we have another surge after Christmas and New Year’s like we did after Thanksgiving, it will completely break our hospitals,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Sunday.

Shelby County leaders have repeatedly said staffing shortages areprimarily limiting local hospital capacity.