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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee spoke in 2019 at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Bradley County State Veterans Home in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is expressing unease about rising COVID-19 case counts in rural areas, specifically naming Bradley County as an area of concern.

"The growth in cases isn't limited to our densely populated urban areas," Lee said. "I'm very concerned about the number of cases that we are seeing in our counties outside of our urban areas, like Sevier County and Macon County and Bradley County and Rutherford County and many others. If you're a resident of one of these counties, or any county in Tennessee, I encourage you to make time this week to get a test at your local health department and to stay home whenever possible."

Lee's announcement came during a Wednesday afternoon news conference to address the state's recent surge in cases. Wednesday marked the largest single-day increase in new cases for Tennessee with 1,806. The Volunteer State is averaging more than 1,000 new cases a day in the past week, higher than at any other point during the pandemic.

What happens in rural Tennessee affects all Tennesseans, Lee said.

In June, Cleveland appeared on the New York Times' list of emerging COVID-19 hotspots. Cases have grown in Bradley County from 146 on June 1 to 580 on July 1. The county is averaging 27 new cases a day in the past week, triple what it was averaging in mid-June.

However, the county has only reported three deaths as of Wednesday.

Amanda Goodhard, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health Southeast Regional Office, echoed what Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee health commissioner, said on Wednesday, that now is not the time to return to normal activities because the deadly virus is still spreading.

"It's important for people to continue taking actions that can help slow the spread of COVID-19 — stay home as much as possible, wear a mask and maintain social distance if you must go out, and practice good hygiene including frequent handwashing," Goodhard said in a statement.

More than a dozen cases have been announced related to a large Church of God congregation in Cleveland that began meeting for in-person services in June and hosted a large revival on June 22 that did not involve widespread compliance with safety guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lee and health officials are urging people to wear a mask when they are out in public. On Wednesday, the governor called it a simple courtesy to protect friends and family. However, Tennesseans are among the least likely Americans to wear a face covering, according to a recent study from the University of Washington.

Locations for COVID-19 testing can be found at bit.ly/tntesthere.

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

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