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Op-Ed: Putting Politics Before Sound Policy is a Deadly Strategy for Tennessee


With COVID case counts rising across the state ... and, to be fair, the country ... the silence coming from Governor Bill Lee's office and that of the Tennessee Department of Health is deafening.

Commissioner Lisa Piercey refused to answer WKRN reporter Gerald Harris' questions yesterday about anything - mask mandates or recommendations, rising hospitalizations and death rate, increasing illness in children. All of his questions about the current COVID surge were met with silence. Yet, these shouldn't be hard questions for the commissioner, a pediatrician, to answer.

I'm not a physician, but even I know the correct answers: We need to get every eligible person vaccinated. Any preventable death in any age population, but especially among our children, is unacceptable. The virus hasn't gone away and will continue to mutate, because that's what viruses do, unless we can get enough people vaccinated or following proven mitigation measures like social distancing and wearing masks. Limiting the number of targets available to the virus will only serve to help us all keep businesses open and our citizens safe.

Should children wear masks in schools? I recognize this is a sticking point for parents, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says 'yes,' so I think we lean into their expert advice. I also know that children 'hating to wear a mask' is more likely their parents hating it. Kids, unlike adults, are incredibly adaptable. And if you talk to parents whose children have wound up in the ICU, they will surely say wearing a mask is infinitely better than seeing their child's face being covered by oxygen tubes or a ventilator.

Commissioner Piercey could have given any of those answers, but she didn't. Governor Lee, our pro-life protagonist, could show that he truly believes in the sanctity of life ... even after a child is born. Two children in West Tennessee died this past week, and death counts (a lagging indicator) are beginning to tick up as hospitalizations continue to increase. Why isn't the governor out front every day pleading with people to get vaccinated and mask up in an effort to save lives?

The most obvious answer is this has become political along the way. From the outrage by some legislators over sharing information and the firing of the state's chief vaccine official to House Speaker Cameron Sexton's not-so-subtle funding threats to any school system who puts in place a mask mandate and the deafening silence of the state's 'leadership' on evidence-based policy measures to meet and try to defeat this crisis - Tennessee has put politics before sound policy, and it's a deadly strategy.


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