JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee took to social media to voice his opposition to COVID-19 restrictions at sporting events.
In a Tweet, Lee wrote: “It’s time. Indoor and outdoor sporting events should happen without caps on attendance or other arbitrary measures.”
Last week, Lee announced that any remaining local restrictions should be lifted – including capacity restrictions at events. He told mayors to lift mask restrictions before that announcement, and the last few counties in Tennessee have plans to lift their final restrictions, but all Northeast Tennessee counties have lifted theirs.
Lee and radio talk show host Clay Travis spoke about sporting events specifically during a Fox Sports radio interview Wednesday morning.
“We now know how to manage the risk, and COVID has progressed from a health emergency to a managed health issue. It’s up to individuals to make the personal decision to get a vaccine, and it’s time for government to get out of the way,” Lee said during the interview. “We’re in a new season, and Tennessee is open. It’s time we live life, open for business, and move forwar. It’s time for Tennessee and states across the country return to full capacity at both indoor and outdoor sporting events.”
This Tweet and interview sparked a fire of excitement on all levels of sporting events. News Channel 11 heard from sporting organizations across Northeast Tennessee, all ready to drop the restrictions, but still stick with requesting safety measures.
Sullivan County was the last in Northeast Tennessee to expire its mask mandate. Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True said the school district will be re-evaluating its sporting capacity plans at the end of the school year.
“We’re still looking at what that will be moving forward. Our operational plan that we have in place now runs to the last day of school which is the 19th of May. And so anything beyond that time we’re at this point still kind of analyzing what the landscape will be and what those procedures will be but our current operational plan just runs through that last day of school which is the 19th of May,” True said.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) said it no longer advises restrictions, but rather requests, not limiting outdoor sporting events currently in play.
“Basically, the major changes for it is there is no longer a mandate or requirement for masks, even weeks before that we removed temperature checks as a requirement so that’s no longer a requirement as well,” TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Matthew Gillespie said. “We asked member schools to recommend masks to be worn, if people cannot be within the proper physical or social distancing of six feet from others outside of their household we recommend it. And we recommend that they not limit attendance but provide ample spacing at their events for people to be physically distanced, six feet or more from people not in their household. Not a requirement. It’s a recommendation, but that’s what we have in place now. So we’ve gone from all these requirements and mandates to what is more in line with the CDC guidelines and recommendations at this point.”
He added that the organization is excited to lift mandates, and instead put in place recommendations. This could be the way to getting sports back on track, he added.
“We’re kind of getting back to normal, it’s refreshing to see certainly especially after we lost all participation at this point last spring, none of these spring sports, some of them maybe got a week of it in, and that’s when it all hit and everything shut down, but it’s so refreshing to see all them out there and have an opportunity to participate so yeah everybody’s everybody’s participating that wants to for sure,” Gillespie added.
“You know, we see the light at the end of the tunnel here at the end of this school year and it’s good to be at this point with everybody, flying and participating we’ve gotten through the full school year, and every single sport has been able to compete at state championships, of course, like was said earlier, you never know what’s going to happen with this thing, but hopefully, when we get back next school year will be completely back to normal but you know I can’t predict that. But I think we’re getting a lot closer to that as we speak.”
East Tennessee State University and several area high schools chose not to provide comments on Lee’s Tweet or interview, saying plans will need to be revised before being released publicly to best redefine these safety recommendations and requests.
As for summer baseball, Boyd Sports told News Channel 11 its Appalachian League teams’ games will be held at 100% spectator capacity.
“We pretty much are ready to go, I would say as of today is when we open a month from now, basically as of right this moment for you know we have Elizabethton, Johnson City, Kingsport, and Greeneville, and all four cities and counties currently do not have any capacity limits on the ballparks, so we’re not going to limit any capacities when technically we’re at 100% capacity, but at the same time I always tell folks, it’s not like we sell out every single night either,” Boyd Sports Vice President Jeremy Boler said. “I wish we could, you know, with our new schedule every summer night we could, but it’s not like we’re going to be 100% capacity every single night already. At the same time, with the mask mandates and everything going away in all the counties and let alone the state never have a bill the counties.”
As for the fans this summer, cheering and laughing will be easily spotted, as masks will not be required at the ballpark, Boler added.
“We are not going to mandate it. We will obviously recommend it for all of our fans, but all of our staff obviously will have to, our gameday staff about the gloves, all that kind of stuff too, we’ll take all precautions, we had the backpack sprayer that does everything. Our team will pretty much be in their own bubble per se, so we don’t make any games postponed or anything, but overall from a fan perspective, we will encourage social distancing, a lot of our ballparks are GA, those things already anyway, so we will definitely encourage it. We’re not going to require a mask but we will recommend that we’ll have a science like that when you walk in the ballparks,” he said.