Lee: No extra considerations for counties labeled hot spots

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday there is no consideration for additional aid for hard hit rural areas, such as Hamblen County, due to constant fluctuations in numbers of COVID-19.

“The numbers are constantly changing,” Lee said.

Lee made his comments during a teleconference with community newspapers. During that conference, he spoke about school reopening and statewide numbers of COVID-19 statistics.

He has called on the Tennessee General Assembly to meet next week and to address issues such as handling COVID-19 liability issues, telehealth and laws governing Capitol grounds.

But, the issue of any more money for areas considered hot spots is not on the table, Lee said.

He said right now the focus on how money is being spent by the state government is dictated by population size.

Lee praised Hamblen County and Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain for instituting a mask mandate and said that could mean a decrease in cases in the county over the next few weeks. He used an example of Davidson County as an example of how cases can rise, but then start lowering due to mitigation efforts.

Currently, Hamblen County has 480 active cases and 13 deaths. But the number of active cases have gone down over the last three of four days after reaching a peak of 512 active cases on Sunday.

Lee also pointed out efforts the state has made to help counties, pointing toward a package that the Tennessee General Assembly passed in the spring of almost $210 million as part of a local grant. Another grant was announced in July for COVID-19 relief that divvied out $110 million.

That package was not specific for COVID-19 related expenses, but could be used for those expenditures. The county received $1 million and the city of Morristown received around $690,000 through the grant money.

The county spent part of the money for personal protective equipment for employees and improvements at the courthouse to deal with social distancing and protection of workers.

Lee also said there is a relief package available for small businesses affected by the state shutdown due to COVID-19 mitigation.

That package included $200 million in assistance, but only half has been spent at this point, he said. He encouraged businesses to apply at the Department of Revenue.

“It’s important that we give that money to the places that need relief,” he said.

He said it’s targeted specifically to local businesses that had to close their doors.

“There’s a significant amount of funding available,” he said.

Lee said a significant amount of counties are under mask mandates at this point and about 70% of the state’s population is under such orders. He said it’s important for people to wear masks, socially distance and wash hands, all part of the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention guidelines.

But, he specifically said he was a “firm advocate” that local leaders had more of an idea on whether mask mandates should be implemented rather than him issuing such an order at a state level.

He said four counties, including Hamblen, issued mask mandates just this week, which will last until Aug. 29.

Lee also highlighted that it was important for schools to reopen and said the state had sent PPE to schools to help handle the pandemic. Locally, Hamblen County schools were set to reopen on July 31, but due to several teachers and staff testing positive that date has been pushed back until Sept. 8.

He said statewide the number of active cases and positive tests have stabilized. There are also decreasing caseloads in major cities, he said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.