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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Dr. Lisa Piercey, health commissioner, issued a strong warning to state residents to stay vigilant in stopping the spread of COVID-19 heading into the holiday weekend as cases continue to surge in the state.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 1,806 new cases, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began.

Also on Wednesday, the Hamilton County Health Department announced 118 new COVID-19 infections, its largest single-day increase. The increase in cases, as well as a new jump in hospitalizations, comes after the deadliest month for the coronavirus in the county.

Lee said his administration is determining the legality and authority of allowing for local mask mandates and expects to have an answer soon. Hamilton County is among those municipalities seeking clarity on what they can do.

Even without a mandate, Lee asked for compliance with voluntary advice that people should wear masks in public.

"Don't put our state two steps backward by refusing to wear, refusing to social distance or refusing to pay attention to something as simple as washing your hands," Lee said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

On Monday, Lee extended the statewide state of emergency through August. In recent weeks, cases in Tennessee have spiked and the state is now averaging 1,153 new cases a day in the past week, higher than at any other point in the pandemic. The growth in new cases is not just because of an increase in testing, Piercey said.

At the same time, health departments are struggling to trace where infections are coming from and getting individuals to quarantine.

"This means people are much more likely than they were in the past to acquire the infection when they are out and about, trying to 'get back to normal,'" Piercey said. "Please listen carefully: This is not the time to get back to normal."

Piercey and Lee issued warnings to residents to avoid careless or unnecessary behaviors that put themselves or others at risk. The governor called wearing a mask a "simple courtesy" to protect friends and family. Tennesseans are among the least likely Americans to wear a face covering, according to a recent study from the University of Washington.

"Until there's a vaccine we have to keep our social behaviors in perspective," Lee said. "We're seeing an awful lot of Tennesseans take unnecessary risks — packing into bars with friends or engaging in activities with large volumes of people, with a lack of social distancing."

Lee and Piercey advised state residents to avoid large gatherings during the July 4th weekend and, if people do participate in crowds, to be tested immediately if symptoms appear.

"COVID-19 has not taken a vacation," Lee said. "In fact, it's still here. Our caseload is climbing. It's very serious."

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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