On a conference call with reporters and publishers from community newspapers Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee wanted the public to understand doing their part could help with the healthcare and economic crises unfolding.
“This is very serious,” he said. “It’s not something to be afraid of, but it’s something to be aware of.”
Lee encouraged the papers to tell readers to follow the guidance given by government and medical leaders, stating the outbreaks in other countries has influenced the recommendations being given.
“The information (from their experiences) led to the guidance we give.”
As the state’s confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus neared 1,000 he reminded the public the positive tests weren’t just limited to the state’s population centers.
“It’s widespread and will be in every county. Tennesseans need to take this seriously and do their part. Individual behavior matters. Every community, every Tennessean matters.”
Lee also launched a new “Do Your Part, Stay Apart” campaign Thursday, partnering with musicians, athletes, sports organizations and even University of Memphis basketball coach Penny Hardaway to encourage people to stay home and abide by the guidelines of social distancing.
Though there is no statewide shelter-in-place or safer-at-home order, he said he hasn’t yet ruled it out.
“We’re going to take it one day at a time. I’m a mechanical engineer … I believe decisions are best made with data and evidence and the data is changing constantly.”
What the Unified Command means for supplies, testing
The state formed a COVID-19 Unified Command this week to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Military.
Led by Stuart McWhorter, the effort is “laser-focused” on helping to mitigate the spread of the virus, providing personal protective equipment for medical personnel and increasing testing.
Lee said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to combatting the pandemic across the state, between rural counties and urban centers.
“If everyone could be tested we’d know what steps to take. But we’re very encouraged with ramping up efforts to have more exposure for testing.”
The National Guard will be deploying into the rural counties to help with testing and bring supplies as well.
“Eighty-one percent of the supplies are being donated to rural areas,” he said. “It’s a bit of a race against time. We’re trying to stay ahead.”
Grant funding and the rapid economic downturn
Lee said the state adjusted the upcoming budget to meet the issues brought on by the pandemic, leaders allocating $200 million for grants for every county and city in the state.
“That’s a significant amount of state funding to attack COVID-19. The federal stimulus will also help provide targeted relief.”
And while most of the focus is on the healthcare crisis the world is facing, Lee said the state’s leaders are also focused on the economic crisis happening as a result.
On Thursday it was announced unemployment claims filed across the country last week hit 3.3 million. According to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee has received more than 39,000 claims since last week, compared to 2,702 the week prior, which is a 1,300 percent spike in unemployment.
“Claims are being filed at a record pace in Tennessee, every day, every week. There’s been an incredibly rapid downturn that will profoundly affect Tennesseans. The state is working on relief for childcare, for the unemployed, for businesses and industry, for individuals. A lot of work is being done.”
The state is spearheading a public-private partnership with the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, Tennessee Retail Association and Hospitality TN to create the Tennessee Talent Exchange powered by Jobs4TN.gov.
Though there are challenges ahead, Lee said he was certain the people of the state will do as they’ve always done.
“Tennesseans will rise to the challenge. They know the decisions we make today will help us set the stage for what’s to come. I’m being very strategic, very hopeful, very focused. We will get through this.”