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NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who emerged this week from a self-imposed, 14-day quarantine following his exposure to a security detail member who had the coronavirus, said he felt it was the "appropriate time for anyone that has had a real exposure to COVID."

"A person that has been exposed and may contract the virus, 90% of those people will do so within 14 days. Statistically that is the case. In order to be certain that you don't give the virus to someone else, then it's important that we stay quarantined for 14 days," the Republican governor told reporters in his first news conference since the exposure.

Asked whether he thought Vice President Mike Pence, who according to news accounts has continued to make campaign and other appearances after several aides tested positive for COVID-19, had acted appropriately, Lee said, "I don't know the details."

"I just know that for me, my exposure, I knew what that exposure was, it was serious," Lee said. "I could pose a risk to those around me if I didn't quarantine for 14 days, so [First Lady] Maria and I chose to do that."

During his quarantine, the governor last week missed the presidential debate in Nashville between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as a Trump fundraiser in Nashville earlier in the day.

Lee on Wednesday also continued to defend his decision not to impose a statewide public mask mandate to control the virus' spread, granting authority to Tennessee's 95 county mayors to decide.

Tennessee is currently experiencing a COVID-19 case and hospitalization surge, with the hardest-hit areas continuing to be those without public face mask requirements, Vanderbilt University researchers stated in a new report released on Tuesday.

Asked at what point would he feel a need to step in and impose a statewide mandate to wear masks in public, Lee said "there are a number of strategies to get adherence to mask-wearing. And we believe that the strategy we're taking is the right one and the best one."

Lee said, "We will continue to follow this and see — and we have seen even in the last several days many county mayors do this. The percentage of Tennesseans covered is increasing virtually every day. We're encouraged."

A number of Tennessee mayors who previously lifted public mask-wearing mandates have started to reimpose them as cases and hospitalizations climb.

"There are a lot of approaches to mask-wearing," Lee said, adding the "most important thing I can do as a governor of the state is to remind people that it's very important to wear a mask. That's why we have public service campaigns going on across the state right now reminding people how important this is. That's why we do it ourselves, that's why we continue to say that on a daily basis."

Earlier, Tennessee Hospital Association President Wendy Long, who formerly headed the state's TennCare program, told reporters that "as cases increase, so are hospitalizations," adding they're rising in Tennessee "at an alarming rate."

"I know that it can be tempting to look at the frailty of those who are succumbing to this illness and assume that as a member of the public that you won't be impacted by this in a significant way by the infection," Long said.

But, she said, "It's important to remember that despite all the improvements in treatment the mortality rate for this is still significantly higher for those cases that require hospitalization."

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

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