Gov. Lee ends public health orders despite low vaccination rate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced major changes Tuesday in the way the state will approach the battle against COVID-19.

All this amidst concerns with the rate at which Tennesseans are getting vaccinated. Lee hopes all COVID restrictions, even mask mandates, will be lifted across Tennessee in the coming weeks

But the Tennessee Health Department says vaccination rates are “disturbingly low” and admits anything is on the table if numbers spike again.

According to the latest numbers, Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 across the US in vaccination rates, and the Tennessee Department of Health says last week, providers requested only 20 percent of allocated doses.

“While that is disturbing, that is just a reflection of low demand,” Lisa Piercey, Commissioner Tennessee Department of Health, said.

The state has surveyed vaccine hesitant residents, and wants to send a clear message for anyone on the fence.

“We want to reassure folks that there are exceedingly higher chances that you will contract COVID and die from it, then the vaccine itself,” Piercey said.

TDH’s latest pleas come just hours after Governor Bill Lee’s office announced plans to lift all COVID safety restrictions by the end of May..

Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey was asked specifically if it’s safe for residents to stop wearing masks.

“It depends,” Piercey said. “People know what to do. If they feel unsafe in a particular area, they should take those extra precautions, regardless of what any organizational or government requirement might be.”

It’s still unclear whether or not local governments that continue safety guidelines or mask mandates could face consequences from the state, if they don’t adhere to the end-of-May time table.

State health officials did admit guidelines could be reinstated if the state experiences another COVID spike.

“I hope that never happens again, but if we were to get in a very dire and emergency situation, I think anything is on the table,” Piercey said.

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