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AP file photo by Mark Humphrey/Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee puts on his mask during a break in the November state budget hearings in Nashville. Lee on Monday is lifting COVID-19 restrictions on school sports event attendance.

What is Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee thinking? And what are our school officials thinking?

Do they not read or listen to news?

In a statement Thursday, Lee said he plans to lift the restrictions on attendance at prep sports event effective Monday.

That means that just as we learn of the much more contagious and aggressive mutations of COVID-19 beginning to reach the South and expected to become predominant in just one month — the UK variant in Tennessee and Georgia, and the South African variant in nearby South Carolina — Lee is lifting restrictions on the numbers of fans who can attend games. And school officials are reopening schools. Again.

TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said that will mean cheerleaders and members of the general public — not just players' immediate family members — will be allowed to attend games. The TSSAA rules on wearing masks, temperature checks before being admitted into facilities and social distancing will remain in effect.

But, no worries. Forget scientists warning us not to be lulled by the recent drops in virus numbers — before the variants arrived and after additional sheltering and school closures were imposed to fight off post-holiday closures.

And never mind that the cases of South Carolina's South African variant were found in people in different areas of the state who had not traveled — meaning that the newest coronavirus mutation that's resistant to treatment and in some cases only about half as likely to be bested by our newest vaccines is "in the community."

Of course it isn't just Lee who's lost his mind.

Starting Monday, the youngest students in Hamilton County Schools will be back in the classroom as district leaders adjust their reopening strategy.

Kindergarten through fifth-grade students will return to school four days a week. Grades six through 12 will return to a hybrid phase of two days a week on campus for at least the next week. Superintendent Bryan Johnson said older students could return to the classroom full time the week of Feb. 8 if cases continue to drop.

The Hamilton County Board of Education was expected to make a reopening decision during its Jan. 21 meeting but instead voted unanimously to pass the buck and defer to the superintendent and the school's COVID-19 task force. Tell us, folks: Why then do we need an elected Board of Education?

Absolutely in a perfect world, or at least one free or almost free of COVID-19, we would want to see all children in school and we'd want to go to some of those ballgames.

But this is not a perfect world.

And acting like it is one not only is dangerous, it's plainly foolish. It's Russian roulette with our entire region and state.

This governor and our school officials should be ashamed.

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