Tennessee latest state to end mask mandates & Covid restrictions as gov announces he is ‘removing authority from local officials’

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee is facing blowback after announcing an end to restrictions on businesses in his state and says local health departments will not have the authority to mandate masks.

In Tuesday tweets, Lee said Covid-19 is “no longer a health emergency” in Tennessee thanks to widely available vaccines against the virus.

“We have never had a statewide mask mandate and I am removing authority from local officials to issue mask requirements,” he tweeted, adding that remaining mask mandates and business restrictions should be lifted completely by Memorial Day weekend.

Lee also announced an end to ‘The Tennessee Pledge,’ a set of guidelines released for businesses to take precautions during the pandemic. The ‘Pledge’ was removed from the state government website on Tuesday. While the recommendations were never mandatory, the governor said retiring the “government playbook” helps send a “clear message” about Covid restrictions ending in the state. 

Tennessee joins multiple other states such as Texas that have rolled back their Covid-19 restrictions. Some have criticized the reopenings as premature, and Lee’s announcement was no different as many on social media blasted the governor as “unfit” for office and accused him of “pretending” Covid-19 is no longer an emergency.

Democrats within the state have pointed out that Tennessee is tracking behind most states in vaccine distribution to criticize Lee’s announcement.

Others meanwhile celebrated the reopening of the state. 

In a separate Tuesday announcement, the Democrat mayor of Tennessee's largest and most popular city, Nashville, announced an end to capacity limits by May 14 in the city, but also said indoor mask mandates would remain in effect, not giving a clear answer as to when he would order those to be completely lifted.

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