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Tennessee governor shoots down Birx recommendation to close bars at joint press conference

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) shot down White House adviser Deborah Birx’s recommendation to close bars and limit indoor seating at restaurants during a joint press conference on Monday.

Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, made her recommendation to shut down bars and limit indoor dining during the press conference, warning that Tennessee was on the verge of rapid COVID-19 spread.

“It is at this very moment where we could change the trajectory of the epidemic before it goes into full of what we call logarithmic spread, as we’ve seen across the South,” Birx said.

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Shortly after Birx spoke, Lee said he would not close bars, limit indoor dining or give county officials the authority to do so. Only a few areas are able to close businesses without the governor's approval.

“Beyond the regions that currently have restrictions, that's not a plan for us now. I’ve said from the very beginning of this pandemic that there’s nothing off the table,” Lee said. “I’ve also said that we are not going to close the economy back down, and we are not going to. But I appreciate their recommendations, and we take them seriously.”

Birx reportedly also privately made her recommendations to Tennessee officials, including Lee, the Tennessean reported. She warned that the state could see an increase in cases as asymptomatic young people unknowingly spread the virus.

She said closing bars and limiting dining helped curb the spread of the coronavirus in Arizona, which was seeing large increases along with Florida and Texas.

Birx did support Lee’s plan on masks, which allows county mayors to impose their own mandates. Lee has not issued a statewide mask mandate. Birx said she didn't think a statewide order was necessary but said she hoped all counties made wearing a mask a requirement. 

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The White House adviser said closing bars, limiting indoor dining and having all residents wear masks could have “as big an impact on decreasing new cases as what we had from shelter-in-place.”

Tennessee has confirmed a total of 96,489 cases, including 2,553 since Sunday, according to state data. The coronavirus has caused 978 deaths in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Other states have shut down bars, banned alcohol consumption at bars or instituted rules forbidding alcohol sales after a certain time. Kentucky announced it would close bars after Birx recommended that the state do so on Sunday.