Tennessee Republican Governor Strips Mask Mandate Authority From Health Departments
Bill Lee, Tennessee's governor, speaks during a roundtable discussion on vaccine distribution on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. governments top infectious-disease specialist, slammed the U.K.s drug regulator, saying that it rushed to clear the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
Houston Cofield/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tennessee’s local health departments will no longer have the power to enact mask mandates beginning on Wednesday, Republican Governor Bill Lee announced in a press conference Tuesday morning. 

The governor’s decision will go into effect through Executive Order 80, which contains a provision that the governor’s office said will both strip the power to enact mask mandates from most health departments and “address economic and regulatory functions” around the state.

“After more than a year of public-led health interventions, we’re in a different season. It’s time to shift our focus now more toward recovery, and not restrictions,” said Lee. 

While the governor’s executive order doesn’t affect the six health departments that operate in Tennessee under local instead of state authority — including Davidson County, home of Nashville — Lee said that his office has spoken with officials in each of those counties and told them that the governor wants any mandates to end by May 30. 

“We think that will be happening in cities across our state,” he said.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat, announced separately on Tuesday that capacity limitations in the city would be lifted on May 14. The mask mandate for indoor businesses, however, would remain in place, and Cooper did not indicate when it would be lifted. 

Lee acknowledged that, while COVID-19 continues to affect Tennessee residents, the novel coronavirus no longer represents a threat that rises to the level of a state-wide crisis. The governor suggested that the positive developments could be attributed to Tennesseans taking personal responsibility and to the availability of new tools for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccines. 

“Above all else, Tennesseans have embraced the idea of personal responsibility, and have allowed us to get in this state from a public health crisis to a managed health issue. For the first time since COVID-19, vaccine has become a reality. It has been made available to everyone who wants it in every single county of this state,” said Lee.

The governor, speaking to reporters in a press conference, emphasized the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines across the state and encouraged people to get it. “Anyone can get a vaccine today, no appointment necessary. I got a vaccine. It’s safe, it’s the most effective way to manage our health, and more Tennesseans are doing that every day,” he said. 

Lee also said that he was pulling “The Tennessee Pledge,” a set of pandemic guidelines that were issued for businesses across the state earlier in the pandemic. While those business guidelines were never mandatory, the governor said it was important to “retire” them to send a “clear message” that residents “know how to manage their own day-to-day operations without a government playbook.”

The “Tennessee Pledge” was no longer available on the state government’s website as of late Tuesday.

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