Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, told the “Todd Starnes Show” Thursday that he does not believe that the best way to govern during the coronavirus outbreak is by relinquishing as much power as possible to the people and let them make responsible decisions.
“People will generally pick the right thing to do if you let them have a choice,” he said.
Lee’s comments come at a time that states across the U.S. have reported a troubling increase in COVID-19 cases. Once again, state governors have been tasked with trying to figure out how to limit the disease’s spread while not destroying the economy.
“Top-down government really isn’t the best way to go,” Lee said. He said he does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach and said his general feeling is that Tennesseans are willing to wear masks if there’s even a chance that they can prevent the disease’s spread because their goal is to keep the economy going.
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Lee, who has not issued a statewide mandate on masks, said that he believes “personal responsibility is key” in preventing future outbreaks. He said there’s “more buy-in” from the people when you give them a choice.
“If I might wear a mask and that could save an elderly person’s life or keep the economy going, I’m willing to take that risk and do it,” he said.
The state’s department of health reported on Thursday that the state currently has 70,881 confirmed cases and 767 confirmed deaths. Lee said the state has been learning about the best ways to approach the virus and pointed out that ICU admissions and ventilator use—two important statistics during the outbreak—have not been in line with hospitalizations.
Gov. Brian Kemp, the Georgia Republican, banned cities and counties in the state from enforcing masks but encouraged state residents to wear them. Kemp’s move sparked a new fight between city officials and the statehouse. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson tweeted, “It’s officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us.”
Lee has said that putting restrictions back in place due to increases in cases throughout the country is off the table. He told the Tennessean that he is still not considering closing the economy again.