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Doctor to Gov. Bill Lee: 'How many Tennesseans have to die?'

Aaron Milstone.png
Posted at 3:58 PM, Mar 29, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — "I simply say to the governor: How many Tennesseans have to die before you act decisively? What is the magical number at this point?"

That was the question posed Sunday to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee by one of the physicians who's been leading the effort to try to convince him to issue a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pulmonologist from Franklin, was among those who first issued the call for such an order a week ago. All of Tennessee's major medical organizations have endorsed the strategy.

Lee has balked at issuing any type of mandate, even as mayors of Tennessee's largest cities have issued their own orders.

Now, Milstone told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that he fears it will take the death of someone famous or close to Lee to force him to act.

"At some point, the governor has to put politics aside, listen to the health care experts that have bent his ear over the past week and essentially do what is right for the great people of our state," he added.

"Protect us and do the stay-at-home order. We are simply asking for two weeks with a reassessment at the end of two weeks."

Asked what he thought it would take to change Lee's mind, Milstone was grim.

"Sadly, as a physician, I know what it's going to take," he answered.

"It's going to take the death of one of our legislators. It is going to take the death of a sports figure. It's going to take the death of someone in country music. Or maybe even a family member of Bill Lee to get ill with this virus or even potentially to die of this virus to sway this governor."

After the interview with Milstone, it was announced that country artist Joe Diffie had died after being infected with COVID-19.

A petition effort at Protect My Care began with the signatures of some 2,000 medical professionals and has continued to expand.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.