Message All Tennessee Lawmakers: Gov. Lee Must Do His Job First, Contain COVID-19, for Schools or the Economy to Reopen Safely

Dear [Your Representatives]:

Gov. Lee cannot continue dumping all the responsibility of fighting a global pandemic on our teachers, parents, local employees, businesses and mayors. Tennesseans can’t do their job until he does his to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Lee has claimed he is pursuing a ‘targeted approach’ but the results speak for themselves: it simply isn't working.  Since rushing to reopen the state against the warnings of health excerpts Tennessee has seen skyrocketing, avoidable, increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Gov. Lee must get the coronavirus under control and that begins with a mask mandate and delaying in-person classes to give that mandate time to work. If we want our schools to reopen safely and the economy to grow, Tennessee needs a statewide virus containment strategy rather than leaving parents, mayors and school boards to figure it out on their own. Gov. Lee's current approach, passing the buck, is failing and endangers the health and wellbeing of Tennesseans.

Tennessee health experts were right about the stay-at-home order. It worked and slowed the spread of COVID-19 and bought the state valuable time to address this crisis. But instead of using that time to get things under control like many other states, Gov. Lee rushed to reopen without a plan to slow the spread of the virus, and now things are worse.

Science, not politics, should lead decision-making. Here’s what our health care professionals and medical experts are calling for:

(1) 14 days of low incidence and stability. Schools should not open unless there are fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 persons per day for at least 14 days in a row. There must be low incidence AND stability. A major challenge is the silent spread of COVID-19 through populations. The virus can be transmitted in the 2-3 days before symptoms begin (the presymptomatic window) and can be spread even by infected persons who never develop symptoms at all (asymptomatic people). This is not a pandemic that can be controlled simply by isolating symptomatic people.

(2) Issue a statewide mask requirement. The science overwhelmingly supports mask mandates as an effective tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Patchwork mask mandates won’t achieve the reductions we need to get COVID under control. We have laws against speeding and drunk driving because it endangers the lives of others. Refusing to wear masks in this pandemic endangers others.

(3) Expanded contact tracing and regular reporting to inform reopening. Parents and employees need to know that people coming in contact with COVID are isolating and not endangering children, teachers or families.

(4) Ensure rapid and regular testing. A test today only shows whether you are infected today, and that does nothing to determine whether you get infected tomorrow. If test results fall days or weeks behind, then people may not take isolation seriously and contact tracers will fall further behind the virus.

(5) Penalize bad actors who endanger others. Whether it’s a business owner who is cutting corners or someone who refuses to wear a mask in public, government has a duty to protect our families from those who would irresponsibly do us harm — intentionally or not. Parents and workers need to know that people are required to wear masks and keep 6 feet apart or face penalties for endangering their children, other staff and their families.

We cannot rush reopening our schools and expect a different result than what happened when we rushed to reopen businesses without a plan to contain the virus.

If we do not get COVID under control, our state will spiral further out of control to where the only options we will have left will be choosing between another state shut down, or simply accepting thousands of more, completely AVOIDABLE hospitalizations and deaths among our children, parents, teachers and their families.

What are you doing to stop the rush to reopen without first seeing the state contain COVID-19?

- Your name