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Tennessee governor limits public gatherings

Tennessee's Republican governor this weekend signed an executive order limiting gatherings in some public spaces but again declined to order a statewide mask mandate as cases continue to climb nationwide.

In an address to Tennesseans on the governor's website, Gov. Bill Lee called on state residents to avoid holiday gatherings without anyone outside of their immediate households and noted that public gatherings would be limited to 10 people under the order. Places of worship and some other activities will be exempt, he added.

"It only took a matter of days to see gatherings around Thanksgiving translate into a record level of sickness. Tennessee cannot sustain a similar surge after Christmas or New Year’s. Tonight, I am asking you to make some hard decisions," Lee said.

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Lee also said that while he believes masks work to slow the virus's spread, he does not believe in mandating such a practice statewide.

"Many think a statewide mandate would improve mask wearing, many think it would have the opposite effect. This has been a heavily politicized issue. Please do not get caught up in that and don’t misunderstand my belief in local government on this issue. Masks work and I want every Tennessean to wear one," Lee said.

State health officials have already seen the rate of new COVID-19 infections skyrocket past levels reached earlier this year to more than 4,100 cases per day, leaving hospitals in Tennessee scrambling to keep up. Just under 3,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide.

The state's health director said this weekend that Tennessee now has the highest infection rate of any state in the country.

"We are running out of options. There are no more staff members to spend money on since they are already by the bedside," Lisa Piercey, the state's health director, said Sunday.