Health Professionals Call for Statewide School Delay and Mask Mandate Amid Tennessee’s Worsening COVID-19 Health Crisis

Nashville – Doctors and a teacher react to an alarming report released by the Department of Health and Human Services and Associate and Centers for Disease Control that called on Gov. Lee weeks ago to issue a statewide mask mandate amid the worsening COVID-19 health crisis and as many schools consider reopening in-person classes at the pandemic’s new peak.

Gov. Lee has claimed for months that he is pursuing a ‘targeted approach’ – but the results speak for themselves: it simply is not working.

“Since rushing to reopen the state in May against the warnings of health experts [slides 1-8] Tennessee has reached new peaks of this pandemic with entirely avoidable increases in hospitalizations and deaths.” said Dr. Aaron Milstone, a Critical Care Pulmnoligst currently treating COVID-19 patients in Middle Tennessee. “Gov. Lee’s ‘everyone fend for yourself’ approach to this health crisis is not working. Our teachers, parents, local employees, local businesses and mayors should not have to carry the burden of fighting this global pandemic on their own.”

Dr. Milstone said Gov. Lee has both the responsibility and authority to act following a report that revealed weeks ago federal officials told Gov. Lee he must issue a statewide mask mandate and following an opinion Friday by the State Attorney General saying the mask mandate “would not constitute an unconstitutional infringement on liberty interests.” 

“Gov. Lee you issue a statewide mask mandate and delay in person classes until the mask mandate can have an effect at getting COVID-19 spread under control otherwise you will be leaving our state with only two options: 1). the need for another state shut down, or  2). simply accepting more avoidable hospitalizations and deaths among our children, parents, teachers and their families.” said Dr. Milstone. 

Dr. Amy Bono, a Primary Care Physician, MPH with credentials in Public Health Policy said, “This high level of community transmission throughout our state is now making TN Counties more alike than they are different. We need a shared battle plan.” and “If you’re playing a football game, would you rather make one game plan or make 95 different ones? To win, you come up with a unified approach, and you have to know when to change strategies when you’re losing. We are losing the Coronavirus battle now. Governor Lee, you have to change strategies now.”

“We have clear guidelines that determine Tennessee is experiencing an extreme outbreak and we have not got this under control to the point where we can safely open schools.” said Dr. Stephen Heyman, a Tennessee Critical Care Physician and survivor of COVID19 related pneumonia respiratory failure and clotting complications. “There is no political benefit to fighting against what is best for your own state. We have to have a statewide mandate. We cannot open schools until we have this pandemic controlled.”

Kristen Morjal, an elementary school teacher in Tennessee said, “Why are we rushing to reopen schools without first getting the virus under control?  And why would we even consider opening schools without a mask mandate?” and “if kids, teachers and parents go back out into a community that isn’t wearing masks, isn’t staying apart and where COVID19 is spreading uncontrollably like nearly every county in Tennessee, then teachers and students in classes will become breeding ground for COVID-19, endangering lives like mine, my husband, my four-year-old son, the children I teach, and their families. Governor Lee, we need leadership, and we have needed it for months.”

Two immediate new interventions would give school officials a fighting chance: a statewide delay of in-person classes to get COVID-19 spread under control, and a statewide mask mandate.  A delay gives the mandate time to reduce community spread, doctors say. 

“Time is up and none of our communities are in a position to begin in-person classes safely because the public health strategy so far has failed,” Dr. Aaron Milstone said. “We cannot reopen schools safely and protect the lives of teachers, students and their families if we do not first lock this virus down. The first step in getting COVID-19 under control is issuing a statewide mask mandate, and delaying in-person classes to give that mandate time to work and time to get the health crisis under control.” said Dr. Milstone. “We know exactly what happens if Gov. Lee repeats the mistakes he made in rushing to reopen the economy, only this time it will be students spreading the deadly virus to their teachers, parents and grandparents. While every single Tennessean wants our schools open, it is reckless to put children in a situation where they might blame themselves for the death of a teacher or family member.” said Milstone.