The Center Square
Dr. Deborah Birx, a top White House Coronavirus Task Force adviser, advised all mayors in Tennessee to mandate use of masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Birx said that right now, 70% of Tennessee counties have mask mandates in place, but she said requirements are needed in every county.
“We can change the future of this virus in this state today… if every mayor throughout this great state would mandate masks, close the bars, and substantially increase indoor dining distancing,” Birx said.
Tennessee is designated a red state by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, meaning the state surpassed a 10% test positivity rate. Tennessee is one of 18 states without a statewide mask mandate.
“I came to talk to the governor about how important it is for every rural Tennessean to wear a mask,” Birx said. The virus “is in all of your rural counties.”
While stopping short of recommending the governor issue a statewide mask requirement, Birx pointed out that mask mandates are at the top of the list of recommendations issued by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to governors of red states.
“Every week, we issue a governor’s report,” Birx said, noting that the latest reports were distributed Monday. “The number one bullet is mandate masks, close your bars, enhance social distancing.”
While Gov. Bill Lee and Birx discussed a statewide mask mandate in the roundtable, Lee reiterated that he will not issue a statewide mask mandate.
“I’ve been to counties that have a mandate where people are not wearing masks,” Lee said, emphasizing that he believes mask mandates are not as effective as buy-in from the public. “People wear masks because they believe that there is a reason to do so.”
According to task force models, Birx said, masks, social distancing, bar closures, and indoor dining limits are as effective at stopping the spread of the virus as sheltering in place.
Birx recommended shutting down bars and further limiting indoor dining to enable social distancing. Lee said he does not plan to implement these recommendations on a state level.
“We don’t have that plan right now beyond the regions that currently have restrictions, that is not a plan for us now,” Lee said on closing bars
“I appreciate their recommendations and we take them seriously.”
Birx visited Nashville to meet with Lee and other state and local officials. The four hour roundtable was held at the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Monday morning.
“It is at this very moment, where we can change the trajectory of the epidemic before it goes into full, logarithmic spread, as we’ve seen across the South,” Birx said.