Lee May 5

This is a summary of Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 press conference from Tuesday, May 5. He is not holding daily briefings anymore.

For Tuesday, there are 13,624 confirmed cases in the state and 226 deaths. There are 1,156 hospitalizations and 6,356 recovered. That compares to Monday’s numbers: 13,502 cases, 219 deaths, 1,143 hospitalizations and 6,081 recovered.


He and his wife Maria on Friday will help Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee pack food boxes, and he called on people to volunteer at nonprofits.

The virus gave an opportunity to see how people could come together.

I want to thank banks who have helped over 75,000 small businesses with $8.95 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Over 23,000 people were tested over 3 weekends in pop-up tests. Testing is available through the week at local health departments.

The Unified Command Group will give guidance Wednesday for small recreation businesses like bowling allies and miniature golf. They may reopen Friday.

On Wednesday, the state will give guidance for businesses that have remained open but need more information: offices, manufacturing, construction. Many will need to use thermometers.

We got special pricing on touchless thermometers. Go online to tnpledge.com to order. They will be available through 4 p.m. Friday or while supplies last. There is a limit of 10 per business.

We have a partnership with Renfro Corp. to get over 5 million cloth masks for residents. The first shipment went to all 95 health departments; any Tennessean can get a mask for free at the health department.

We have a partnership with Battelle, which sterilizes N95 respirators.

Tennessee Board of Dentistry. Start practice Wednesday using American Dental Association guidelines.

Rural and small hospitals: In April, we announced $10 million in grants to carry them over to federal funds. These are new recipients: Macon, Rhea, Maury Regional, Henry and Houston County.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, Health Department:

We have had 226 unfortunate deaths.

This week we are testing all inmates and staff at prisons. It started yesterday. It should finish this weekend or early next week. Those results will start coming Wednesday or Thursday, and case numbers likely will go up.

We had just shy of 2,000 inmates and staff positive. Most are asymptomatic, which is good. Six inmates hospitalized, one serious, and one from Trousdale died – a 67-year-old male with underlying health conditions.

Long-term care facilities will do testing in May. We published guidance on Friday and posted an FAQ on our website.


Q: Last night, a judge said the Education Savings Account (ESA) Program was unconstitutional. What does that mean for the application process?

Lee: We are committed to a quality education for every Tennessean; that’s what the program is about, giving students in a low-performing school the access to the same education as others. We disagree and will appeal.

Followup: Are you still encouraging applications?

Lee: Yes.

Q: Given the drastic cuts to the budget, is it right to keep $38 million in the budget when ESA was ruled unconstitutional?

Lee: Anything that will allow children to have a quality education is worth fighting for. I believe very strongly in the principle they deserve, regardless of status, a quality education. Now, more than ever, a high-quality education is important for Tennessee students. They had a challenging year this year, and if we ever needed to invest in our children, it’s now.

Followup: The mental health trust fund and literacy programs likely will be cut. Why is ESA more important than programs that would affect students across the state?

Lee: Continue strong funding for education in future. The Legislature will determine priorities. Education will be important managing the budget. We will continue to consider programs.

Q for Piercey: You recently expressed surprise for inmates being asymptomatic. Last month told healthcare providers there were asymptomatic patients. Why were you surprised about inmates?

Piercey: The elderly can take longer to show signs of illness. It’s well documented they can have a longer asymptomatic period. Seniors are longer presymptomatic. That’s different. It’s still a head-scratcher that younger and healthier people have a high rate. We’re seeing that all over the nation with inmates and other condensed populations, even employer situations where people are close.

Followup Do you accept any responsibility this situation got out of control in prisons?

Piercey: I’m not sure anyone did anything wrong. We are on the forefront of testing aggressively. Tennessee was ahead in going out and proactively looking for these; most states are testing only symptomatic.

Q: On April 22 you said any long-term care facility with 2 or more cases must report. Your directive said only one case must be reported. Given how contagious this is, why not list sites with one case on your website

Her: One case is not a cluster, so we are listing cluster cases. 2 by definition is a cluster. It’s going to be unusual to have just one. In congregate care setting, the spread is rapid, so we’re not listing one.

Q: Given the death at Trousdale, is your office considering accelerated releases for inmates who were paroled?

Lee: Our testing and treatment of inmates does not include any change for release or shortening of sentences.

Followup: Some attorneys were talking to the Board of Parole about early releases.

Lee: The board is connected to our office, and I have not been requested to authorize early releases or shortening of releases.

Followup to Piercey: Some said social distancing is tough in a prison. What are other ways to mitigate the spread?

Piercey: It is hard to have distancing in any congregate care setting. Mask availability, more hand washing, decreasing the times inmates gather in recreation settings.

Q for Piercey: Last week you talked about updating the nursing home cases daily. Will that be done this week?

P The numbers don’t change much daily, so we’ll stay weekly. We’d rather they be in the facilities than updating numbers all the time.

Followup: Where does the testing stand at nursing homes?

Piercey: Our website has FAQs for them. Most facilities are doing on their own, and some we are helping.

Q: How many tracers does the state have now, and is it enough?

Piercey: We started with 70 or so. We trace many infectious diseases. We took other staff from the department and about two weeks ago added 230 state employees from other departments who volunteered. Now have over 300 and looking to add more, maybe in June.

Followup; How many do you need?

Piercey: That depends on how many cases we have.

Q: The Shelby County mayor said the state should give local governments more control on paid sick leave for workers, and the reopening for businesses and to regulate nursing homes more closely. Why does the stat hold up local governments?

Lee: We are working with local governments. That’s how we do it. We have a daily call with city mayors of major areas and county mayors. We worked together to create reopening plans.

Have you offered him more control over nursing homes?

Lee: We think the way we oversee them are the best way. We have the resources and testing strategy and oversight. It’s working well. We want it to be seamless across all 95 counties.

Following is more information about the masks being offered to residents and the sterilization of masks from a state press release:

“As we restart Tennessee’s economy, it’s very important we help Tennesseans feel safe as they go back to work or out to shop, and that our healthcare providers have sufficient personal protective equipment for their workers. We’re grateful to Renfro for their partnership in helping us keep Tennesseans safe,” Lee said.

Unified Command Group (UCG) is partnering with Renfro, Corp, a global sock brand company headquartered in Mount Airy, N.C., with a manufacturing and distribution operation in Cleveland, Tennessee, to make washable, reusable cloth face masks available to as many Tennesseans as possible.

UCG is supplying the first 300,000 Renfro masks, based on population, to Tennessee’s county and municipal health departments this week. Each health department will receive at least 1,000 masks and will serve as a convenient pick up location for county residents who need masks.

The mask distribution at county health departments is part of UCG’s first wave in a larger mask distribution effort.

“For a century, Renfro has focused on manufacturing millions of pairs of socks every week at our facilities in Alabama and Tennessee,” said Stan Jewell, Renfro’s President and CEO. “Then in March, it became apparent that our design and manufacturing expertise could be used to provide millions of face masks to communities to help reduce the spread of COVID19. We have a long, distinguished history in Tennessee, and we are proud to partner with the state to equip all Tennesseans with a protective mask as part of the solution to combat COVID-19.”

Also, the state is also partnering with Battelle to provide an N95 respirator mask decontamination system and service to Tennessee health care providers to protect health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Battelle will locate one of 60 nationally deployed decontamination systems in Jackson, Tennessee as part of an effort to bring down the costs, and increase the availability of, N95 masks for health care providers.

The Battelle system uses hydrogen peroxide vapor in a 2.5-hour process that will remove biological contaminants, including the virus that causes COVID-19, from used N95 respirator masks.

Health care providers will collect, label, and ship their used N95 masks daily to the Battelle site in Tennessee using a barcoded serial number for tracking. Battelle will decontaminate the masks and return directly to providers.  Battelle will also mark each mask with the number of times the mask has been through the decontamination process.

Tennessee health care providers must take care not to ship any N95 masks containing cosmetic residue to the Battelle service location.  The presence of cosmetic products on N95 masks will interfere with Battelle’s process and prevent proper decontamination.

More information for health care providers about the Battelle decontamination system is available at battelle.org/decon.

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