In the US, the White House quietly told Tennessee early this week that “a statewide mask mandate must be implemented” to curb its growing spread of Covid-19, instructions that were only revealed in a records request, AP reports.
The 11 October state report for Tennessee, where the Republican governor, Bill Lee, has let counties decide whether to require masks in public, first came to light in a records request by WUOT-FM. The Associated Press obtained the report from the Knox County health department afterwards.
“A statewide mask mandate must be implemented to stop the increasing spread among residents in rural and urban areas of Tennessee,” states the record in a list of recommendations.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he was not in favour of mask mandates, but the recommendations of the task force and public health agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have often been at odds with the White House’s rhetoric.
The report takes the strongest tone to date in urging Tennessee to act, though Lee has made it clear for months that he did not think masks should be required across the state. Lee, who has urged people to wear masks, continued to advise against a statewide mandate on Friday in an online news conference, in which he didn’t mention the White House’s instruction a few days earlier.
“Statewide, one-size-fits-all mandates are not as effective in many cases as local decision-making,” Lee said.
In a statement late on Friday, the governor’s office said the White House report had not altered his thinking.
“The governor has strongly encouraged Tennesseans to make responsible decisions to protect themselves and others from Covid-19, including wearing masks in public, avoiding large gatherings, and staying home when sick,” the statement said. “The governor’s view has not changed based upon non-binding recommendations from the federal government. Previous White House reports dating back to the summer have included similar recommendations, so the inclusion here is not novel.”
Tennessee has seen coronavirus case counts grow in cities and, particularly, in rural areas.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Tennessee has risen from 1,412 new cases per day on 1 October to 1,911 new cases per day on Thursday. Likewise, the positivity rate seven-day rolling average has grown from 5.7% on 1 October to 7.48% on Thursday.