Kingsport Times News. May 4, 2021.

Editorial: Gov. Lee jumped the gun on mask requirements

“We have never had a statewide mask mandate, and I am removing authority from local officials to issue mask requirements,” Gov. Bill Lee said recently in declaring the COVID-19 crisis in Tennessee to be over.

Here’s the rub. The pandemic isn’t over. The numbers clearly indicate it’s anything but over. Yet instead of listening to the science and acknowledging the ongoing crisis, Gov. Lee is siding with the deniers.

“As Tennesseans continue to get vaccinated, it’s time to lift remaining local restrictions, focus on economic recovery and get back to business in Tennessee,” the governor said.

But health experts say that to reach herd immunity where restrictions may be safely removed, somewhere between 70% and 85% of the population probably needs to be immunized. According to the state’s website, only 25% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated. And with the number of people in the state who are steadfastly refusing to get vaccinated, we’ll never get the number we need to defeat this beast that has killed well north of a half million Americans.

“We are in the very bottom tier of states in the proportion of our population vaccinated,” Professor William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said last week. “COVID continues to be a serious public health urgency throughout the state. The virus is still spreading. It’s still putting many people into the hospital.”

And it’s still killing people.

The same day Lee declared the end of the COVID crisis in Tennessee, the state was 13th in the nation in total cases, 15th in total deaths and 19th in new deaths. And in the most important number — new cases — Tennessee led 38 other states, coming in 12th in the nation in new cases at 1,187 from the previous day. In the two weeks previous to the governor’s announcement, Tennessee reported almost 21,000 new cases — more than 1,000 a day

There appears to be a rush by states to lift mask orders and restrictions. Thirteen states have now done so. Lee continually refused to place a statewide mask order even as continued need for them was demonstrated by increasing infections. If the state’s COVID numbers were decreasing, the governor would be justified in saying the virus is now a “managed public health issue” and “no longer a statewide public health emergency.” But according to the state Health Department, only 13% of the state’s 11,513 floor beds are currently available and only 11% of ICU beds. How is this not still a public health emergency?

“It’s time for celebrations, weddings and conventions and concerts and parades and proms and everything in between to happen without limits on gathering sizes or other arbitrary restrictions for those events,” Lee said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagrees. The CDC says that while fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks at small outdoor gatherings or when dining outside with friends from multiple households, unvaccinated people should still wear a mask at such gatherings. Even if you’ve been vaccinated you should avoid large indoor gatherings, the CDC said. And for the fully vaccinated who do choose to attend a crowded outdoor event such as a live performance, parade or sporting event, wearing a mask is still recommended.

We all want this to be over. But Lee jumped the gun in a most dangerous way. He essentially told Tennesseans that life is good, the danger has passed, and that they can get back to “normal.”

That move will cost lost time at work, hospitalizations to continue to climb, and will likely contribute to more needless deaths. Surely that’s not what he intended.


Johnson City Press. May 5, 2021.

Editorial: Separate those recyclables

Millions of people have been separating their recyclables for decades, but a few folks in Elizabethton still seem to be having trouble with the concept.

According to an article in the Press this week by Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson, non-recyclable materials, like wood flooring, sheetrock and rocks, have been dumped recently into a recycling bin on Mill Street meant for cardboard.

Landfill Manager Benny Lyons told county leaders that foreign material mixed with recyclables could have negative consequences for the county, from the rejection of the adulterated shipment to damaging expensive landfill machinery.

The careless resident’s or residents’ actions could spoil a joint effort between Carter County and Elizabethton, the latter of which hosts the Mill Street recycling center.

Recycling practices have been under scrutiny lately, especially since several municipalities in our region paused plastic pick-up because of decreasing demand in overseas materials markets.

Continuing to practice the sentiments of the decades-old mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle” is still important, however, because it puts less strain on our planet’s finite resources, and it saves space in our landfills.

The expense to taxpayers of searching for locations, buying land and beginning operations of a new landfill should be incentive for people to scrutinize their garbage habits even if environmental concerns are not enough.

To those dumping household garbage in the recycling bins in Elizabethton, please be more careful. To those who appear to be intentionally dumping construction debris, cut it out. You’re going to ruin a good thing for everybody.