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TN Gov. Bill Lee forms COVID-19 command group; announces staffer tested positive

This comes after an order Lee issued this weekend closing many businesses for 14 days.
Credit: AP
Gov. Bill Lee answers questions concerning state's response to coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Nashville, TN. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has established the COVID-19 Unified Command. The new command group will help streamline coordination of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Military.

Lee said he created the Unified Command to change the way we attack COVID-19. During a news conference Monday afternoon, Lee said the command will solve issues surrounding testing, medical supplies, hospital beds, quarantine, and medical personnel.

He said one of the greatest challenges they must address is the acquisition of personal protective equipment known as PPE.

Lee said eight higher education institutions are now using 3D printers to create face shields to be used in conjunction with PPE and to extend the life of the supply. The institutions will produce between 1500 and 2000 shields.

Lee said to further his efforts to get more PPE, he signed executive order #18. This will prohibit hospitals and surgical outpatient facilities from performing elective surgeries and dentists to halt non-emergency dental services.

Practitioners are being asked to donate their personal protective equipment to their nearest National Guard Armory until April 13th.

"It's a very important strategic decision we have made in the Governor's office," said Lee. "We are not depending on others to find and store PPE for our state."

Lee said the move to halt elective surgeries also frees up ventilators and protective equipment.

Lee added they are aggressively working to acquire PPE for healthcare workers. He said today the TN Department of Health received 429 Tyvek suits.

Lee also announced in the news conference one of two staffers in his office tested positive for COVID-19. Lee said he did not spend a lot of time around that employee, does not have any symptoms, and is confident regarding his own situation. Lee did say because of that situation, they are taking extra precautions, which is why the news conference was done online instead of in person.

(TN Governor's Office News Release) - Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee established the COVID-19 Unified Command, a joint effort to be led by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Military.

“The COVID-19 pandemic challenges every aspect of traditional government response in a crisis,” said Gov. Lee. “I have appointed the Unified Command to effectively change the way we attack COVID-19 in Tennessee as we work to simultaneously address health, economic and supply crises.”

Commissioner Stuart McWhorter currently heads the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration and will leave this post to head the COVID-19 Unified Command. McWhorter appointed retired Brig. Gen. Scott Brower to serve as chief of staff for the operation.

“Gen. Brower’s special forces background and previous service as the Acting Senior Commander for the 101st Airborne Division has enabled him to pull leaders together and troubleshoot quickly in a crisis,” said McWhorter. “Gov. Lee has urged our team to challenge every barrier and assembling this team is the first step.”

Brower resides in Clarksville and most recently served as the military advisor in residence to the president of Austin Peay State University. The COVID-19 Unified Command also includes:

  • Patrick Sheehan, TEMA Director
  • Dr. Lisa Piercey, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health
  • Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Adjutant General, Tennessee Department of Military

More information regarding COVID-19 response is available HERE.

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Coronavirus in Context: 

The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80-percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. 
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.