Tennessee doctors group turns to lawmakers for mask mandate

Friday, January 8, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 2

MEMPHIS (AP) — A group of Tennessee doctors that has been pushing Gov. Bill Lee for a statewide mask mandate turned its attention to the legislature Tuesday, the first day of the 2021 legislative session.

Speaking to reporters via videoconference, Dr. Diana Sepehri-Harvey, a Franklin primary care physician, addressed Lee's stance that individual personal responsibility, not a mandate, is the best way for Tennessee to fight the virus.

"This is a global pandemic, so cannot be fought by individuals," she said. "We need to come together with a cohesive response. We are asking our state representatives to do the job Gov. Lee has not."

Despite the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in Tennessee, where more than 7,800 people have died, it seemed unlikely that lawmakers would act on the call for a mask mandate. In the GOP-dominant General Assembly on Tuesday, few lawmakers were wearing masks themselves.

Meanwhile, Tennessee's largest county resumed COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday after it ran out of doses provided by the state last week.

The Shelby County Health Department said vaccinations resumed by appointment after the Tennessee Department of Health pledged to give the county 8,900 doses per week through the end of January.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said Jan. 6 that vaccinations were being halted because the county had run out of doses. The county health department is expected to give up to 4,000 doses from the first weekly shipment, with the rest being administered by hospitals, officials said.

All appointments for January are filled, according to a statement from the county health department.

Among the groups receiving vaccinations in January are law enforcement officers, firefighters, staff and residents of long-term and congregate-care facilities, health care workers, and people 75 and older.

Shelby County, which includes Memphis, is Tennessee's largest by population. The county has reported 75,016 cases, including 508 additional cases disclosed Tuesday, and 1,046 total virus deaths. Hospitalizations in Shelby County have dropped from a high of 661 patients on Jan. 6 to 579 patients on Monday.

The state of Tennessee has reported more than 657,300 cases and more than 7,860 deaths, health officials said.


Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee.