‘Work with us.’ Tennessee doctors again ask Lee for statewide mask order amid COVID surge

Bill Lee
Posted at 11:13 AM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 23:23:57-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One day after Gov. Bill Lee said health experts were not a “unified voice” on whether a statewide mask mandate should be issued, doctors from across the state released a joint statement to refute the governor’s claim.

Doctors from the group Protect My Care met via a Zoom call Friday morning and pleaded with Lee to issue a statewide mask order as cases, deaths and hospitalizations surge across the state.

More than 50 doctors from across the state participated in the call, and said they were speaking on behalf of tens of thousands of their colleagues.

Their joint statement comes after Lee’s remarks during a news conference on Thursday, after which the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were given to health care workers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Although Lee has emphasized the necessity of mask wearing to mitigate the spread of the virus, he has resisted continued calls to issue a statewide mandate.

During that news conference, NewsChannel 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams asked Gov. Lee, “If you have such respect for these professionals, why not take their advice and issue a statewide mask mandate?”

“I talk to health professionals all the time and that’s not a unified voice... there’s a lot of argument and a lot of dissension about what’s the right tactic. We can argue about tactics, but we can’t argue about what needs to be done,” Lee responded.

In response to the governor’s remarks, doctors released their own statements, saying they have been asking for a statewide mask order for months.

“Governor Lee, you said yesterday that ‘no one could have imagined' the Thanksgiving surge that is now endangering the lives of so many Tennesseans. We did. And we’ve been warning you every day for the last 165 days. As physicians, we each took an oath to protect our patients. Much like your oath to lead and protect our state. Governor Lee, your medical community is united. We are pleading with you. Work with us. Help us get the COVID crisis under control so that more businesses can stay open, schools can safely resume, and so fewer Tennesseans will suffer or die,” Dr. Aaron Milstone said during Friday’s Zoom call.

Milstone said health physicians across the state have “three demands.” First, they want Lee to issue an immediate mask order.

“Counties with [mask mandates] are doing better than those that don’t,” Milstone said. “Also, counties with no mask mandates are undermining the progress of those that do and crushing our hospital capacity.”

Doctors also want employers to have safety measures in place to maintain social distancing and require masks to ensure the public feels safe. Lastly, they want schools and businesses to get the support they need.

“You, sir, have repeatedly told Tennesseans that they have a personal responsibility to live up to in this crisis. Governor Lee, so do you," Milstone concluded.

Even as Tennessee continues its vaccine rollout at hospitals this week, the state continues to record grim COVID numbers, reporting 177 deaths – a record high – on Thursday. Tennessee currently has the highest average in daily cases per 100,000 in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Watch the full Zoom call in the video player above.


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.