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White House Task Force: Governor, rural mayors should issue mask mandates

Social distance, close all the bars, limit indoor dining to only those establishments that limit capacity, and rural mayors should issue a mask mandate … that was the advice of Dr. Deborah L. Birx, part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, as she spoke at a press briefing Monday in Nashville.

When asked specifically whether she believed Governor Bill Lee should issue a statewide mask mandate, Dr. Birx responded, “Every week we issue a governors report. They just received their reports for this week. For every red state, and Tennessee is now in the red state category with a positivity rate of over 10 percent, the number one bullet is always mandate masks.

Following Dr. Birx’s press event, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee stated that his office had no plans to close bars or limit restaurants, nor did he intend to give county mayors or executives the power to do so.

Prior to the July 4 weekend, Governor Lee did give county level officials the power to issue mask mandates. On Monday, we asked Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis if she planned to follow Dr. Birx’s plea for rural mayor to issue a mask mandate.

“Thankfully the White House Task Force’s initial prediction of Coronavirus cases and deaths has not met original expectations,” said Mayor Lewis. “In Moore County, we have had 37 cases since March. That is less than one percent of our population.  We currently have 15 active cases and thankfully none of our cases were severe. The CDC has just reduced the days of isolation or quarantine necessary from 14 to 10 and said there is no need to be retested to return to work. These recent facts are encouraging.” 

In Monday’s meeting, Dr. Birx warned that Nashville existed among 11 major U.S. cities that needed to take “aggressive” steps to stop the virus. Other cities included Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

She also had a special message of Tennessee’s rural counties.

“I know some of you find mask uncomfortable … so do I,” Dr. Birx stated. “I put mine on at 8 a.m. this morning and I’ve had it on ever since. I do this out of respect for each one of you but also I’ve been all across the U.S. in places where there have been a lot of virus.”

As of Monday’s 2 p.m. numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health, our state gained 2,553 new active cases overnight. Of particular concern is the fact that only 17 percent or 338 or 2,034 ICU beds are currently available for COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Birx also encouraged rural mayors to issue a mask mandate. Mayor Lewis said she felt strongly that a mandate wasn’t necessary in Moore County.

“At this point, we all know what our responsible role is in this fight – not only to wear a mask (correctly) but to also wash our hands regularly and keep a safe distance. I think most of us have adjusted to these actions,” Mayor Lewis told The Times. “Even though the governor has given the mayors the authority to issue a mask mandate I don’t think that is the best thing for me to do for Moore County. … Overwhelmingly I hear that our citizens are proud to be trusted to do the right thing and not be forced to do so.”

Mayor Lewis pointed to youth baseball and the public pool opening without incident or a spike in cases as an example of Moore County’s ability to do the common sense things.

“I don’t know if all are aware, but I allowed our youth to play ball this summer and have opened the public pool. To my knowledge, there has not been a problem with either.” 

Our friends at The Tennessean have posted Dr. Birx’s complete remarks on their Facebook page. Click here to view that video. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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