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Michael Curtis gets help putting on his mask from his father Richard Curtis before entering Alcoa Elementary School Wednesday morning, July 22,2020 in Alcoa, Tenn. (Scott Keller/The Daily Times via AP)

The message was clear — it's too soon to reopen schools for in-person learning.

About 12 representatives from the medicine and education fields voiced or displayed their support via a virtual meeting on Monday to have Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee look into a statewide mask mandate and slow down the reopening of schools.

Dr. Aaron Milstone, a critical care physician and pulmonologist who treats COVID-19 patients, said the virus is spreading "uncontrolled through our communities, needlessly endangering our children, our families and our teachers."

"Lee has claimed for months that he is pursuing a targeted approach, but the results speak for themselves," Milstone said. "It is simply not working."

Separately, Lee met with one of the White House's top COVID-19 advisers, and he touted a new statewide public service campaign aimed at encouraging mask wearing.

Hermitage-based physician Amy Gordon Bono echoed Milstone and said Tennessee's public health crisis "continues to worsen."

Bono said all counties statewide are experiencing a "concerning level of community spread."

"To be clear, our goal should be less than 10 new cases per 100,000 persons per day for 14 days in a row. We need low incidents, and we need stability of those low incidents," Bono said.

Lewisburg-based elementary school teacher Kristen Morjal also urged Gov. Lee to reconsider opening schools and to impose a mask mandate. Morjal said the wearing of masks and reopening schools have become politically charged.

"But I fear that without a mask mandate both across the state and in our schools, this virus is going to continue spreading like wildfire," she said. "Why are we rushing to reopen schools without first getting the virus under control?"

Dr. Stephen Heyman, who is on oxygen and can't yet return to work as he is post-COVID-19, urged Lee during the virtual meeting not to open schools.

As of Monday, there were 95,433 cases statewide and 5,148 cases in Hamilton County. Of the county's total, 1,838 are active, according to the Hamilton County Health Department. There have been 978 deaths from the virus statewide, and 44 deaths countywide.

Hamilton County Schools communications officer Tim Hensley said the district does not have a set-in-stone reopening plan in place and is looking at the numbers daily in order to make decisions. The district has a phased plan, between all-online and all-in-person schooling, with hybrid models in between, depending on coronavirus data.

According to the district in a tweet Monday, "we currently have 1,838 active cases, which would make us ready to move to Phase 2 if schools were open." Phase 2 means there are reduced days on campus. 

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter at @justmissmilly

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