Gov. Bill Lee signs executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people as coronavirus cases surge

Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 70 on Dec. 20. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 70 on Dec. 20. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 70 on Dec. 20. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

In light of rising coronavirus cases statewide, Gov. Bill Lee announced Dec. 20 he signed an executive order limiting social gatherings over the next month.

Executive Order No. 70 requires that Tennesseans limit social gatherings in indoor public spaces to no more than 10 people outside of family members. Additionally, individuals should maintain 6 feet of distance from all people outside their household "to the greatest extent possible." The new order will last through Christmas and New Year's Day and is set to expire Jan. 19 at 11:59 p.m.

The order comes as active coronavirus cases are rising quickly in Williamson County. On Dec. 21, the county had 2,128 reported active cases, a new all-time high for the county and an increase of 45% since last week, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Lee issued a statement with the order, urging for residents to be cautious so as to not see another surge in new cases after the holiday season.

"We have seen firsthand that Thanksgiving gatherings and extended time indoors have been the principal driver in spreading COVID-19 like wildfire," Lee said. "It only took a matter of days to see gatherings around Thanksgiving translate into a record level of sickness. Tennessee cannot sustain a similar surge after Christmas or New Year’s. Tonight, I am asking you to make some hard decisions."

The state has seen thousands of new cases daily, according to the TDH.

"We now have around 10,000 Tennesseans getting sick every day," Lee said. "To put that in perspective, that’s three times where we were around Halloween. Thousands of our neighbors are in the hospital tonight. More than 100 people are dying each day. We are in a war. With the arrivals of the first vaccine, we have launched an offensive that will end this war. But it is the next few weeks that is going to be the most critical for our state."

Lee is also calling for employers to let employees work from home for the next 30 days; however, if that is not possible, masks should be worn.

"Right now, 70% of Tennesseans are under a mask requirement. I commend the local officials who have implemented mask requirements," Lee said. "Because of that, 80% of Tennesseans report they wear their masks most or all of the time, and I thank them for doing this. We need them to continue and the remaining 20% to wear a mask and protect their health. Many think a statewide mandate would improve mask wearing; many think it would have the opposite effect. This has been a heavily politicized issue. Please do not get caught up in that and don’t misunderstand my belief in local government on this issue. Masks work, and I want every Tennessean to wear one. Tennesseans have two weapons that they must use in the next 30 days: Only gather with your household, and wear a mask."

Williamson County's latest mask mandate, which has been in effect since Oct. 30, is set to expire Dec. 29. The county has yet not announced if it will extend the mandate again.

Exceptions to the executive order include worship services, weddings and funerals, although individuals at those gatherings are still strongly encouraged to limit capacity or hold virtual services instead.

See the full executive order here.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.