By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically in Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order Dec. 20 declaring “a continuing state of emergency and major disaster in order to facilitate the response to COVID-19.”
According to latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control, Tennessee now ranks as the worst state for new COVID-19 cases in the United States.
WSMV-TV in Nashville reported Dec. 21 that Tennessee’s daily cases per 100k over the last seven days sits at 128.1, just ahead of Texas which follows at 125.6. “Tennessee is now ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Lee observed.
During a statewide address on Dec. 20, Lee exhorted Tennesseans to “make some hard decisions.” He noted 10,000 Tennesseans are getting sick every day and 100 people are dying daily from COVID. “We are in a war. With the arrival of the first vaccine, we have launched an offensive that will end this war, but the next few weeks will be critical,” Lee stressed.
He encouraged Tennesseans to not gather with people outside their households. In his executive order, he limited indoor public gatherings to no more than 10 people.
Lee encouraged employers to allow their employees to work from home if possible, and if not, masks should be worn.
The governor stopped short of issuing a statewide mask mandate, noting that 70 percent of communities in the state already have mandates and that 80 percent of state residents report they wear masks. “Masks work,” he said.
Lee’s executive order does not apply to churches, weddings or funerals, but it strongly encouraged places of worship “to continue to utilize virtual or online services and gatherings” and follow the Guidance for Gathering Together in Places of Worship issued by the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives regarding in-person services that can be conducted safely.
The executive order also called for persons attending funerals or weddings to follow health guides and maintain social distancing. It also encouraged “that any large public celebration of weddings or funerals be postponed or attended only by close family members.”
In response to the later executive order, Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, observed that “our pastors and ministry leaders know how to best love their communities and lead their churches during this pandemic.” The full video of Davis’ message can be viewed below:
Davis noted that the new executive order requests churches to go back to virtual services. “It is important to note that churches are not mandated to do so,” he said.
At the same time, Davis said, church leaders need to recognize the outbreaks of COVID-19 in the state “are more severe than we experienced previously. I am confident our leaders and churches will do everything they can to help prevent the spread of this disease.”
In Lee’s closing remarks, he encouraged Tennesseans to join in the effort to combat the disease. “We are in a cold, cruel phase of this pandemic,” he said. “It will get worse before it gets better. I know you are tired, but we have got to double down.” B&R