Bill Lee

Gov. Bill Lee

Tennessee’s coronavirus response has drawn national attention as a congressman is applying pressure to Gov. Bill Lee to pull back on the state’s reopening efforts.

The pressure centers around a report published July 16 by the White House Coronavirus Task Force that said Tennessee was one of 18 states categorized as coronavirus “hot spots” based on the number of new cases. The information was reportedly not released to the public but was shared with governors; it came to light when a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity wrote a story.

Rutherford County was listed as the No. 3 hot spot in Tennessee, as the Murfreesboro Post previously reported.

Democrats reportedly have questioned why the White House did not release the report to the general public.

Now, U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC-06), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, is questioning the White House and the Republican governors of Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma.

Clyburn on Wednesday sent those governors a letter asking them to follow a list of reopening restriction recommendations included in the report. Clyburn listed instances in which he felt Tennessee was not fully complying or only partly complying. Examples cited included no statewide mask mandate; not closing gyms and limiting restaurant capacity to 25 percent in red zone counties; and not limiting gatherings to 10 people in red zone counties or 25 in yellow zone counties.

Clyburn’s letter mentioned that White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx had visited Lee on July 27 and asked him to follow the recommendations.

Lee has frequently mentioned that he believes mask mandates are more effective when local county mayors issue them rather than having a statewide requirement. That is because people are more likely to buy into such a guideline when it comes from a local leader, he said.

The congressman also sent letters to Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the task force, and Birx to criticize the administration for not publicly calling for stronger public health measures. He also said that their action is contributing to the spread of the virus. He asked for copies of the task force’s recommendations and for information on how the administration is making sure the guidelines are implemented nationwide.

Clyburn is asking Lee and the other governors to send the subcommittee documents and other information by Aug. 12 so it can conduct an investigation. The request includes information and recommendations the task force sent the states; any decisions or public health measures the state implemented or canceled based on that guidance; and a “detailed description” of plans to carry out additional public health measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The Post contacted Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson about Clyburn’s letter. He said that the administration had received the letter and would review it.

When the Post first reported on the task force’s findings, Ferguson said that, “The Unified Command Group is in close contact with White House officials to provide regular updates on COVID-19's presence in Tennessee and to share best practices and challenges the state is facing in responding to the pandemic. Many of the suggestions listed are already in place in certain counties in Tennessee, and we are working with local governments on the best way to address the pandemic in their unique communities."

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