In a GOP governors’ town hall hosted by Fox News on Wednesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said his state’s schools have kept their students in-person, unlike some in Democrat-controlled states, and that students should not be forced to wear face coverings.
“I think people from all over the country are looking around, unsatisfied in many states, the ones that we all know about, with life, — in particular, life in the last year,” Lee said. “They have been looking for a long time, but suddenly the differences between our states and those blue states are stark. You know, their kids have been out of school for a year. In Tennessee, all of the kids are in school. In fact, we have a strong school choice program.”
Sean Hannity, who moderated the discussion, then asked Lee if students are wearing masks in school.
“They are not wearing masks. In a couple of districts they are — we have a law in the state that allows districts to make that decision,” the governor responded. “But I’ve said I don’t think any kid ought to wear a mask. If you want to follow the science, you wouldn’t have kids in a school wearing masks when kids do not get sick from COVID. That’s science and that’s what we ought to be doing. But school choice is in states like ours; parents get to choose. Tennessee is the third-lowest tax per capita state in the country.”
Lee issued an executive order in late April to end public health orders and mask mandates. The order also contained a “Tennesee Pledge,” which included optional guidance for businesses, such as suggesting that owners “mitigate exposure in the workplace by implementing social distancing practices.”
“Face coverings are strongly encouraged for all persons (employee and guest) in all public places where close proximity to others is anticipated,” the pledge stated, and “[f]ace coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone unable to remove the mask without assistance.”
Many states still have mask mandates or have not reopened, including California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Thirty-one percent of Tennesseans have been vaccinated, and 39 percent have received at least one dose. Cases are down 42 percent in the last two weeks and deaths down by 21 percent.