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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, center, and his wife, Maria, leave the House Chamber after Lee gave his State of the State Address Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

This story was updated with new information at 8:40 p.m. on Dec. 19.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee tested positive for the coronavirus, Gov. Bill Lee's office announced Saturday, hours after the governor said he will address Tennesseans in a prime time Sunday night speech about the state's raging post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge.

"Maria began exhibiting mild symptoms of COVID-19 and it was confirmed this afternoon that she has tested positive," the Republican governor said in a statement. "I am feeling well with no symptoms and have tested negative for COVID-19."

Lee said that "out of an abundance of caution, I will be quarantining at the Governor's Residence and still plan to address Tennesseans about the COVID-19 surge tomorrow."

The governor plans to speak beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time. His remarks will be broadcast on Facebook and YouTube.

Lee's address and the First Lady's diagnosis come after the governor was blasted on Friday by physicians for his refusal to implement a statewide mask mandate. That despite latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing Tennessee has the highest number of new COVID-19 cases by population in the entire U.S. over the previous seven days.

Tennessee tops the nation with 142.2 new cases per day per 100,000 residents on average over the past seven days, as of Saturday. That's up from 135.6 on Friday. Tennessee held onto the No. 1 spot, even as Texas overtook Oklahoma for second place.

Physicians accused the governor of having abandoned the people he swore an oath to protect. 

Options available to the governor going into his statewide address include issuing a statewide mask mandate or just continuing to urge people to wear masks. He could also extend his current executive order allowing county mayors to issue mask mandates to allow mayors of cities and towns to issue mandates, in areas where county mayors have refused to act.

A number of Lee's fellow Republicans in the General Assembly oppose mask mandates.

But in a blistering Zoom news conference on Friday, Tennessee physicians with the Protect My Care group, who for months have unsuccessfully pleaded with Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate and other requirements, charged that the Republican governor's refusal to do so amounts to a failure of leadership.

Doctors were especially incensed by Lee's remarks a day earlier at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as he and medical officials celebrated the arrival of the new Pfizer vaccine in Tennessee and the start of vaccinations to protect health care workers.

"We couldn't have imagined" the post-Thanksgiving surge of cases, Lee said, and the doctors complained that he was repeatedly warned of exactly that.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

 

  

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