Gov. Bill Lee gives a press conference Thursday, Dec. 17 at Vanderbilt University. He discussed the vaccine rollout and, because Tennessee is the hotspot of the world, stressed the importance of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Today the Pfizer vaccine was distributed to hospital around Tennessee and Gov. Bill Lee spoke at both Vanderbilt Hospital and the Regional One Medical Center in Memphis. What was supposed to be a celebratory speech for the vaccines’ arrival turned into a speech where Lee repeatedly referred to the case increases, the more than 5,000 deaths, and Tennessee’s ranking as the hotspot of the world as “sobering.”

“We do stand here and celebrate a tremendous breakthrough in this pandemic, but there is a darkness before the dawn that’s happening right here in Tennessee and we have to recognize that,” he said. “Tennessee’s cases are surging, the holidays have caught up with us. Decisions that some made during Thanksgiving are having a severe reality in this hospital and all across Tennessee today. One thing that this vaccine will not solve, one thing that this vaccine will not cure is selfishness or indifference to what’s happening to our neighbors around us. This vaccine will not cure foolish decisions about how we gather, it will not cure an attitude of a refusal to wear a mask and it won’t cure the idea that I will take my chances and that that will not have an impact on someone else’s life.”

Lee went on to say Tennesseans shouldn’t look past the sobering reality of what we’re facing.

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“We are getting sicker in Tennessee by the day from COVID-19. We’re going the wrong direction in Tennessee. I believe Tennesseans have a tremendous capacity to make responsible decisions, and we need you to wear a mask and consider alternate holiday gatherings.”

Today’s data from the CDC shows Tennessee has 129 cases per 100,000 residents, the highest in the nation for the second day in a row. Yesterday, Memphis infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Threlkeld said Tennessee was the hotspot of the world. Oklahoma is coming in second with 98 cases/100K.

Tennessee is also double the national average, which is 64 cases/100K, had a record for single-day increases in deaths (177) and a record positivity rate (21 percent).

During his speech at Vanderbilt, Lee said “we couldn’t have imagined … or we certainly didn’t want to imagine” cases would spike as they have after Thanksgiving, however many experts have predicted the surge for months and have warned the public to take extra measures against spreading the virus.

A very stern Lee is now asking Tennesseans to be responsible in their decision making moving forward, noting that decisions made about how families will gather for Christmas will have a profound impact who will be in the hospital in the weeks following the holiday.

“This vaccine is a powerful tool, but it will take some time to have a real impact. And in the meantime, it is the very simple things that Tennesseans do that will help us turn the tide of COVID-19 in our state. Your decision, whether you’ve worn a mask ever before or not … [wear one for one of the 5,800 families who lost a loved one] … your decision to wear a mask today, for example, may be the decision that keeps you from being treated by these healthcare workers in the weeks ahead. We can and we must turn the tide of COVID-19 in this state and I need every Tennessean to hear that message loud and clear on a day where we are very hopeful about what these medical professionals and this vaccine will provide for our state.”

Vaccines come to Memphis

In true Memphis fashion, the Memphis VA Medical Center and Methodist Germantown administered their first vaccines at 9:01 a.m., Local 24’s Brad Broders reportedDr. Threlkeld received the first COVID-19 vaccine at Baptist Memphis.

Today there were 56,550 doses distributed and there were an additional 11,300 added to the supply received today, Tennessee Dept. of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said.

Next week, Tennessee will receive 115,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be shipped directly to all 95 health departments across the state. These vaccines will be used to immunize first responders, remaining healthcare workers and long-term care facilities.

The state will roll out a new vaccine dashboard to keep track of how many people have been vaccinated. Lee said the state wants to help educate the public about the vaccines so that they may make informed decisions.

Piercey also said the wide and diverse landscape of Tennessee and their commitment to reducing waste and spoilage were factors in the state’s decision to hold Monday’s 975-dose shipment of the Pfizer vaccine for emergencies. She told reporters if a hospital receives a shipment that is broken or ruined due to the vaccine’s strict storage requirements, they could now pull from the reserves.

“As it turns out, waiting 72 hours was pretty fortuitous for us,” Piercey said. “If we had given those doses, we would have lost the 11,300 doses we are gonna get today.”