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Gov. Bill Lee, first lady in quarantine after exposure

by Kimberlee Kruesi —

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday that he is in quarantine after a member of his security detail tested positive for the coronavirus.

The governor’s office released a statement saying the Republican had tested negative but he would be in quarantine as a precaution with first lady Maria Lee. The first lady tweeted Wednesday afternoon that she also tested negative and said she and the governor both feel well.

“Today, a member of the governor’s executive security detail has tested positive for COVID-19,” the statement read. “Gov. Lee is feeling well and has tested negative for COVID-19 but out of an abundance of caution, he is quarantining at home with the first lady until further notice.”

No other information about the security staffer’s exposure was immediately available.

Earlier Wednesday, Maria Lee had posted to social media that she was visiting a middle Tennessee elementary school with Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. The two were photographed wearing masks while interacting with children. The governor, meanwhile, had attended a fundraiser the night before.

It was unknown whether Schwinn and the school officials would be tested.

Along with announcing he’s in quarantine, Lee canceled Wednesday’s in-person COVID-19 media briefing and instead held a telephone conference call, where he fielded a handful of questions.

According to the governor, his last interaction with the security staffer was Tuesday. The staffer decided to get a test Wednesday after displaying symptoms.

“Maria and I are feeling fine. … We are not sick and we hope we don’t become that way, but we’ll certainly keep you posted along the way,” Lee told reporters, adding that he expects to remain in quarantine for the next two weeks and will continue to receive COVID-19 tests.

Lee has long encouraged the public to wear masks and maintain their social distance to protect themselves from the virus.

However, he has also resisted calls to implement a statewide mask mandate. Most recently, he lifted all virus-related limits on businesses and social gatherings for most of the state even though cases of COVID-19 in the state have been persistently high.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, chairman of Shelby County Delegation of State Legislators, expressed “thoughts and prayers” for Gov. Bill Lee, his family, staff and team.

“Regardless of which side of the isle you are on, we don’t wish this deadly debilitating COVID-19 virus on any person…anywhere. We’re praying that they come through quarantine unharmed and whole.”

According to researchers from Johns Hopkins, Tennessee has seen more than 2,700 COVID-19 related deaths as of Wednesday. That death count is the 21st highest in the country overall and the 28th highest per capita.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by nearly 570, an increase of roughly 42%. The state is currently 12th in the country for new cases per capita.

In other virus news, Shelby County health officials said Halloween events that encourage gatherings of large numbers of people are not allowed — even if they are held outside. Festivals, parades and haunted houses also are not permitted, and door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended.

“It can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors and because sharing food is risky,” the Shelby County Health Department said in a news release.

Recommended activities include online parties and “drive-by” events in which people stay in their cars.

(This story includes a report by the TSDMemphis.com newsroom.)


(Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.)


AP reporter Adrian Sainz contributed from Memphis, Tennessee.

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