Gov. Lee gives COVID update, talks police reform


During a discussion with the Tennessee Press , Governor Bill Lee took a moment to provide updates on COVID-19, law enforcement reform, and small business relief, among other topics.

Governor Lee opened the discussion with an update on COVID-19. Pursuant to the guidelines issued by the CDC, data on the spread of the illness will henceforth be reported differently in the state, primacy now being given to active cases instead of a running, cumulative total. Governor Lee explained this change, saying, “As this pandemic has moved and we’ve moved through it, we’ve learned a lot about what data is relevant. The CDC will change a particular guideline, which means we will need to change our data to reflect the latest understanding of things such as duration of infection.” The full list of changes to the reporting of data is listed on the Tennessee Department of Health website, and, in addition to narrowing the number of cases represented, there are also provisions to show a clearer picture of cases concentration across the 95 counties. On this, Governor Lee said, “We’ve provided a much better county-by-county picture. When people see what’s actually happening in their counties… it makes them respond differently.”

Governor Lee then moved on to the topic of small business relief, an issue that he has been emphatically vocal about for the last few months. Lee reminded the press present that there was a sum of $300 million set aside for small business relief, adding that, at the time of this interview, only roughly half of the money had been utilized by eligible businesses. Notably, 40,000 businesses within the state are eligible, and only roughly $20,000 have tapped into this emergency funding. Governor Lee also stressed that the deadline for accepting these funds is fast-approaching – September 25.

Lee then transitioned to speak about unemployment in the state, noting a ““significant” reduction. It should be noted for context that the most recent data on Tennessee unemployment illustrates an 8.4% rate for the month of August, a good deal lower than the 14.7% peak that came in April. However, the 8.4% figure remains more than twice the 3.4% rate that Tennessee saw in August of 2019. Lee went on to note that federal unemployment assistance ended on September 5. However, Lee emphasized that Tennessee is continuing to offer unemployment insurance for those out of work, with the caveat that Tennessee is reinstating its work-search requirements for those receiving these benefits.

Governor Lee then pivoted to discuss Tennessee’s state law enforcement reform project, whose aim, according to Lee, is “continuously improving our interaction with law enforcement and our communities.” A key element of this reform is “continuing to support law enforcement’s ability to protect and serve,” Lee noted. Lee then went slightly deeper into the specifics of these reforms, adding that they will update use-of-force and duty-to-intervene policies for officers with infractions against them. Additionally, Governor Lee said that these reforms would involve a “significant investment in officer training,” adding that a side-effect of this investment will be removing some of the financial burden from communities.

The topic of school concluded the talk, with Lee noting that he was “very encouraged” by the way in which schools across the state have performed in these first couple of months of the schoolyear. Governor Lee expressed that he felt Tennessee was assuming a leadership position with regard to education amid the pandemic, setting an example for the other 49 states in the union.