NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced an end to the state’s public health orders Tuesday.
You can watch News Channel 11’s live stream of the announcement below:
According to a release from the governor’s office, Lee has signed Executive Order 80, which officially removes the power granted to local authorities to issue face covering requirements.
The Executive Order also addresses “economic and regulatory functions” following the end or public health orders.
“COVID-19 is now a managed public health issue in Tennessee and no longer a statewide public health emergency,” Lee said in the release. “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.”
The order removes the authority to issue mask mandates granted to county mayors in the 89 counties in the Tennessee Department of Health’s coverage.
The release states Lee has requested that the six independent county health departments, including Sullivan County, lift their health measures by the end of May.
According to the release, Executive Order 80 also “extends helpful deregulatory provisions to enable individuals, businesses and other organizations time to adapt their operations in anticipation of ending said provisions.”
The order maintains the state’s access to federal funding. Some of the funding the state will retain access to includes SNAP benefits and cost reimbursements for the Tennessee National Guard’s pandemic efforts.
Also included in the order is a provision that requires local health departments to offer a walk-up option for people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
A release from the Tennessee Department of Health says all of the Northeast County Health Departments will no longer require vaccine appointments and can provide walk-up vaccinations every weekday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. If you have any questions regarding a vaccine at those health departments, call (423) 979-4689.
Executive Order 80 officially retires the Tennessee Pledge business guidelines previously issued, according to Lee.
You can read the full executive order below:
Tennessee’s Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey held a media briefing Tuesday where she commented on Governor Lee’s decision.
She said the state department of health cannot take action against counties for not lifting mask mandates, that would be at the discretion of Governor Lee. Just because the requirement goes away, she said people can and should still wear a mask in certain settings, especially indoors.
She added safety is still at the discretion of people, businesses, and schools in Tennessee. They can still ask people to wear a mask.
Piercey said state health officials always have to prepare for the unexpected and if there is a surge in cases that could mean mask mandates do come back around.
“I hope that never happens again, but if we were to get in a very dire and emergent situation like we were, I think anything is on the table,” said Piercey.
The department strongly encouraged all Tennesseans to get the vaccine Tuesday. Piercey called the demand for vaccine statewide “dangerously low.”
Dr. Piercey says this comes as Tennessee is seeing a dramatic drop in the age of those contracting and being hospitalized with COVID, so the younger population is being most affected statewide.
She emphasized Tuesday lower risk does not equal no risk, and wanted to encourage younger people that the vaccine is safe and effective.
“There were no shortcuts in safety. The thing that was accelerated was the regulatory process and the investment process,” said Piercey. “We have to get the message out there that not only are these vaccines safe, they are a lot safer than COVID itself.”
Right now Piercey says they are working to increase the state’s supply of Johnson and Johnson vaccine as it is somewhat low. She added there is no shortage of Pfizer or Moderna.
The Tennessee Department of Health is kicking off a digital media campaign this weekend to urge confidence in the vaccine, and they hope increase demand for it.