Apr 3, 2020

Tennessee Gov Bill Lee COVID-19 Briefing April 3

Tennessee Governor April 3 COVID 19
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsTennessee Gov Bill Lee COVID-19 Briefing April 3

Tennessee Governor, Bill Lee, reassures people and small business owners that relief efforts are happening in a coronavirus briefing today, April 3. He also signed an order requiring Tennesseans to stay home. Full transcript is here.

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Bill Lee: (00:00)
But crisis as well. And as orders to stop movement and close nonessential businesses have taken effect, small business owners have borne the brunt of that. And it is clearly a brunt. It is a blow to businesses. It is a very difficult season for small business owners, large business owners, employees who have lost their jobs, who work in companies that have been closed down or who are struggling because of the economic downturn. It’s a very difficult day for business as well in this community. And I want you to know that we are working hard. If you’re an individual, we’re working hard to provide targeted relief through SNAP benefits or through special assistance for needy families, for small business loans, for individual unemployment insurance benefits. And if you’re a company, we are working very hard with the federal government and their efforts through the new funding package that’s coming down that provides targeted relief specifically for businesses. Today, Project Paycheck went live, and we encourage businesses to find out all the different ways that they can provide relief through this difficult time.

Bill Lee: (01:27)
We want to stand with our business community, not only through this, but after this to help them recover and rebuild. And we’ll have a lot to say about that going forward, but I just wanted to speak to the business community here and say we are listening. And it is a very challenging season for you, and we recognize that, and we’re doing what we can during this season and to prepare for after it because there will be an after it, and we know that.

Bill Lee: (01:58)
I mentioned this economic, the CARES act, the federal package that’s coming down, that actually was voted on last Friday. It’s providing much needed relief. These Project Paycheck is actually going to be implemented through our local banking system. So we are grateful for the local banks that are partnering with the federal government and with the state to make sure that we can get the funds that are necessary for small businesses to endure this season of time. So thank you very much for the local bank banking community for being part of the answers.

Bill Lee: (02:43)
I’ll take your questions now. I just wanted to check and make sure I’d hit all the high points there. I think what I want folks in Tennessee to continue to know is there is a very strong concerted effort in communities from one end this state to the other, efforts that we saw today in our meetings with local leaders here, strong efforts to provide expanded capacity and expanded testing. We’re one of the top states in the country for testing per capita, which speaks very well of our understanding, at least our ability to better understand our infected population in this state. But providing equipment capacity, providing relief for businesses and relief for individuals and having the private sector and nonprofits engage with us as well. That’s the way that we will see ourselves through this storm.

Bill Lee: (03:41)
When the clouds part will have a better picture. And I believe that we’ll have a picture that we’re proud of. And we’ll be proud of it because we’re seeing Tennesseans step up like never before to attack and to approach a problem that is a problem like we’ve never seen before. And it requires that kind of engagement by Tennesseans. and they’re doing it, and I’m proud of that. We have some very difficult days, very difficult weeks ahead of us in this state, but I’m confident that we can make our way through those. And we will do that with the help of every single one of you. So thank you. Happy to take your questions.

Speaker 1: (04:18)
Governor, thank you for coming and giving some more information about what the state’s doing, particularly with the need for hospital beds. To that end, can you speak to the state and local levels in their reluctance, even the, not at all giving any information on number of ventilators and masks and what is at least at the local level, and what’s available.

Bill Lee: (04:38)
Yeah, so we are providing information daily on quantities that we have. And those are not always available because they change frequently. You asked about ventilators.

Speaker 1: (04:53)
And masks.

Bill Lee: (04:53)
I’m sorry?

Speaker 1: (04:53)
And masks.

Bill Lee: (04:54)
And masks. Yeah, I don’t have counts of numbers of masks. That obviously changes daily because they’re used by the hundreds or thousands every day. We do have a significant inflow of masks coming into our state. And I can get numbers for you about that, but masks, gloves, caps, feet covers, they’re all a challenge. We have been able to stay ahead of the need. There are low demands in every facility across our state, but TEMA has shipped PPE to all 95 counties and continues to do so. I think there are a number of shipments coming in to Knox County even today. Those are not giving people long surpluses. That would give them 10 day supplies, but we stay ahead of the need. And I’ve been really proud of the efforts that we’ve made and the way we’ve been able to stay ahead of the need.

Bill Lee: (05:50)
We think we will continue to be able to stay ahead of the need. We have no one that’s run out. And if they do, we’re able to get those supplies to them. And if they do, we need to hear about that. We need to know through TEMA when there is a facility who doesn’t have the equipment they need for that day to operate.

Bill Lee: (06:10)
Regarding ventilators, we’ve made estimates of what we think will be needed statewide in the surge. We’ve made public the number of ventilators that we have available. We have a surge capacity of about, we believe, 1900. If the models that we’re using are accurate, we will need about 1900 ventilators during a surge. We have currently about 950 available that are not being used. We have an additional 500 on order that we think will be delivered before the surge. We have at least, we’re in the process of doing inventory on those ventilators that are available in our outpatient surgery centers because of the reduction and the elimination of non-essential procedures and surgeries, of elective surgeries, the suspension of those. We know that we have at least a couple hundred ventilators through that process that that inventory should be done in the next couple days. So we have a strategic plan to fill the capacity gap that we currently have in ventilators. And we’ll work really hard to make sure we have that.

Speaker 1: (07:28)
And that’s a local number. You said the state-

Bill Lee: (07:29)
That’s a statewide number. So ventilators, for example, those are easily mobile. We could ask different providers to give us their number, how many they have. But what we need to know, what’s really helpful information is how many ventilators do we have in Tennessee because if Knoxville needs ventilators, and we have them in Nashville, they’re going to be moved to Knoxville, vice versa. Those are easily transferable. Hospital beds, not so much. That’s why we’re working with local providers to to assess their surge capacity and add through the Knoxville Expo Center, and other sites that we’re assessing, additional capacity to make sure that we have the beds here in Knoxville that we need.

Speaker 2: (08:10)
Speaking of beds in Knoxville, how many beds will this new facility at the Expo Center add to the capacity here? And when was the estimated completion time for that to be ready to accept patients?

Bill Lee: (08:25)
Yeah. So the question is when, how many beds in Knoxville Expo Center, and when will those come online? And I will answer that, but I’ll also say that we are looking at other sites as well to add additional capacity. That site will provide about 350 beds. And the bed capacity is determined by the type of patients that we’re going to put in those facilities. These will be a low acuity COVID-19 positive patients who require hospitalization but will not require a particular high level of care. So we’ll provide 350 beds through that facility.

Speaker 3: (09:09)
I’ve been hearing a lot of questions about your stay at home order now that it’s different from the safer at home order, and a lot of people are wanting to know how is that going to be enforced and how are we deciding what’s an essential business?

Bill Lee: (09:19)
Yeah. So the question is about the stay at home order. I’ve said all along that I’ve been encouraged by Tennesseans engaging in appropriate activity and behavior, and really for the most part, Tennesseans have come together to really recognize that social distancing works, and that if we really want to slow the spread of this disease, then we’ve got to stay apart from one another. And we’ve done that. And we’ve watched, I’m also one who makes decisions based on information. These are very difficult decisions to close a business or to ask someone or require someone to stay in their home. Those are very difficult decisions that no one wants to make unless you believe that there’s actually a real information at the right time to do so.

Bill Lee: (10:17)
I’ve also said, we make the right decision at the right time. If we do so for all the right reasons. So we saw Tennesseans separating and slowing their movement and socially distancing. And the trends were very good. And we needed to increase those trends. So we provided a safer at home order. But in the last four or five days, we saw some very troubling data around social distancing. We saw much more active movement in our roads and highways. We saw much more active movement through cell phone activity that’s provided by third parties, anonymous cell phone activity. When you sign up your cell phone, you agree for some companies to have access to that information. Those companies post that information publicly. And we watched that public information. And we saw that Tennesseans were moving around more and more, particularly in some of the regions that didn’t have a stricter order. So that’s why we imposed a strengthening of that safer at home order to require Tennesseans to say this really isn’t an option if we want to stop COVID-19. We’re not going to stop it, but if we want to mitigate it’s spread, it can’t be an option. It really is a requirement for us to engage and stay home.

Bill Lee: (11:45)
So we strengthened that order. We gave we local law enforcement the authority to enforce the previous executive orders and gave them clear guidelines on how we thought they should do that, but we gave them the authority to do it. And they will execute that in their own individual way, in their own individual communities. We believe that people will comply. It’s a stepped up requirement for people now. So we’ll monitor that of course. But we’ve given the enforcement capacity to local law enforcement.

Speaker 3: (12:31)
Can you give some guidelines of how to do that though. What would that look like?

Bill Lee: (12:31)
I’m sorry? Could you…

Speaker 3: (12:31)
Could you give some guidelines too please?

Bill Lee: (12:33)
Well, there was a specific letter that we wrote out to every law enforcement. That’s available publicly. I don’t have it in front of me so I can’t tell you what it is, but it’s clear guidance to law enforcement about how it is that we want certainly for them to educate businesses, for example, that might not be complying, and then give them information, warn them, give them opportunity to comply before taking any further steps. That’s what we have seen work in other places across the country. And that’s how we want this to happen across our state too. And really in the vast majority of cases, for most instances, if a company or business is not compliant, and they’re made aware of it, then they certainly want to comply, and they make the changes necessary. That’s what we’re seeing happen.

Speaker 4: (13:21)
Governor, you mentioned some of the other sites that you guys are surveying in addition to the Knoxville Expo Center. Can you give ideas of those other sites [inaudible 00:13:27]?

Bill Lee: (13:31)
Right. There was an earlier question about timeline for these beds that I didn’t get to. Sorry about that. We believe that within three weeks, we’ll have beds up in the Knoxville Expo Center. That may change a little bit depending on what we find out when we actually start implementing the work in that facility, but we believe that the target is about three weeks. And there’s an assessment of a number of other facilities in Knoxville. I don’t know which ones they are. The US Army Corps of Engineers making those assessments, and when they determine that a facility is a satisfactory, that kind of fits the ability to turn it around quickly, and there are not many facilities that are set up for a quick turnaround because there’s a lot of work that has to be done. The HVAC systems have to be transformed to create negative pressures in these facilities. Oxygen piping has to be distributed throughout the facility, so there’s quite a lot of work that has to be done in a short period of time. Not many facilities are really ready for that. But when they find more facilities, they’ll provide that information to us, and we’ll make decisions then.

Speaker 5: (14:42)
Have you decided on the total number of beds for the Knoxville area-

Bill Lee: (14:46)
We haven’t. What was most important to me was to get started. We met with the Corps of Engineers a couple of weeks ago. They gave us their process actually about three weeks ago. They gave us their process. We asked them to begin that process. And as soon as they delivered sites to us, then we made agreements to get to work on those sites. That was the first thing that we needed to do was get this underway.

Bill Lee: (15:16)
Part of what today’s meeting with local officials was about with Mayor Jacobs and Mayor Kincannon and others was to say, we got these beds started now. Let’s work with our local healthcare providers and determine how many beds we’re actually going to need. And if we need to start a second facility under construction, then let’s do that. But we need to get this first one going. We know we’re going to need the first round of beds, and that was the first action we needed to take.

Speaker 5: (15:49)
Yeah. A little bit about the federal disaster declaration President Trump [inaudible 00:15:52] yesterday, the press release was not terribly specific, said that the money would be applied to state and some local government, some nonprofit for emergency measures. Could you offer some specificity on where that money’s supposed to be going, what projects or efforts it might be aiding?

Bill Lee: (16:07)
Yeah. No, I wish I could offer specifics, but we just got that declaration approved, as you know, last night. But our unified command has now received that approval. They’re working through the guidance that’s been given to us. And we will be able to deliver specifically what we’re going to be able to do with that funding shortly.

Speaker 5: (16:30)
And do we know how much it is, or is open ended?

Bill Lee: (16:30)
There’s not a defined amount right now. Part of that is what we determine through this process our needs are going to be that qualified for the funds available through that.

Moderator: (16:39)
We’ll take one more question.

Speaker 6: (16:41)
Governor, last night, it’s kind of two part question. Mayor Jacobs commented saying that your order, your new order is too stringent, that all those comments made by Senator Briggs who earlier in the week said if you have personal liberties, but you’re dead, it doesn’t really do any good. Can you talk about balancing those two viewpoints from both of them, Republicans, both local Knoxville Republicans, and how that helps shape your thinking the last couple of weeks.

Bill Lee: (17:10)
Both of those men I’ve worked with closely. And I had a great meeting with Mayor Jacobs today. He and I talk regularly. What’s most important is that we all work together on this. I think that we’re in a very unusual day, and there are very difficult decisions to be made. And I’ve told folks every day, I’m a person who wants very much to determine what is the very best decision. And discerning the direction that we take as a state is the primary job I have. There are lots of information, much of it is varying, much of it has really different, it shows really different outcomes. In taking all of that information and input from leaders like Mayor Jacobs is valuable and like Mayor Kincannon, input from both of them and from other leaders around the state is valuable. That’s how we discern the next steps going forward.

Bill Lee: (18:15)
I do believe that we’ve made the right decisions at the right time for our state. I do think we’re doing some things very well in our state, particularly around testing. We are one of the first five states in the country to test for COVID-19. And now what’s being shown is that testing may be the best indicator of success for a country or community. So we don’t know exactly what’s coming, and no one knows the exact right approach. But I do know this, that all of those leaders that you talked about all have the same goal in mind. And that is to provide the highest level of safety and security for Tennesseans, to provide the least amount of economic damages to our business community, to provide the least amount of personal pain to our individuals.

Bill Lee: (19:09)
And let me just make one comment about that as well. Not only is a health crisis associated with COVID-19 for people, not only might they get this virus, or not only might they lose their job or have an individual economic crisis, but we have a mental health crisis that has shown itself in Knox County. We have an upsurge in child abuse cases and in domestic violence cases. There is mitigating… I mean there are other collateral damages that occur as a result of this.

Bill Lee: (19:52)
I can tell you that every one of the leaders in this community are working together. We may have nuanced, different approaches to things, but we all have one thing in mind. And that is the life and safety and wellbeing and economic prosperity of Tennessee. And we’re working really hard every single day to make sure that happens.

Bill Lee: (20:12)
Thank you all very much for being here. And thank you, Tennesseans for doing your part, for engaging in the ways that you individually are serving the elderly, not panic buying, staying away from folks, following the guidance that’s been given to you. Thank you for doing your part to stay apart.

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