(The Center Square) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday he will end statewide public health orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and shift the state toward “recovery.”
Lee signed Executive Order 80, which ends local authority in 89 Tennessee counties to issue mask requirements. Those 89 counties fall under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Health.
“As Tennesseans continue to get vaccinated, it’s time to lift remaining local restrictions, focus on economic recovery and get back to business in Tennessee,” Lee said.
Lee said he has requested counties with independent health departments – Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan – to lift any remaining mask requirements and business restrictions by the end of May or earlier. Lee said he and his staff have spoken with the six counties, and they will be lifting restrictions by Memorial Day.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced Tuesday that all COVID-19 capacity limitations in Nashville will be lifted May 14.
Lee said he has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and the availability of the vaccine to all Tennesseans was an important part of this decision. Lee said he received his second dose of the vaccine 10 days ago.
Tennessee Department of Public Health data shows 3.9 million Tennesseans have been vaccinated; 34.3% of the public has received one dose, while 24.3% are fully vaccinated.
"Tennessee is 47th out of 50 states for [COVID-19] vaccinations," Tennessee Senate Democrats tweeted after Lee's announcement. "Under Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee saw the 4th worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation per person and worst in the South. More than 12,100 Tennesseans have died from [COVID-19], including 83 this past week."
Lee said Tennessee, which never had a statewide mask mandate, will remain under an emergency order related to deregulatory issues.
“This is about trusting Tennesseans,” said Lee, who is hoping the announcement will help everything from weddings and concerts to proms and public gatherings to move forward.
“It’s time for businesses to get back to serving their customers,” Lee said.
While advocating for getting vaccinated and saying he believes vaccinations are an effective way to manage COVID-19, Lee also made it clear that he does not believe the state should mandate vaccines or vaccine passports.