Thursday, December 31, 2020

Open Letter to Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee

To the Honorable Bill Lee, Governor of the Great State of Tennessee:
I'm approaching my heart transplant's 14th anniversary. Thousands of my fellow Tennesseans and Americans currently need a life-saving transplant, but only a few will ever be fortunate to receive one. After an 11-year battle with heart disease prior to receiving mine, I know it is a tremendous blessing, and one I do not take for granted.
Due to my transplant, I'm required to take immunosuppressants the rest of my life to ward off rejection, which places me into the COVID high risk group along with the elderly and others with pre-existing health conditions. I have, therefore, severely reduced my activities outside my home by order of my doctors since March 17, 2019 - over 9 months. Therefore, when I do venture out, it's mostly for outdoor activities, such as walking in my neighborhood or going to a park with my wife where I can distance myself from others. I have only eaten in a restaurant once since early March. I cannot take my wife out for a "date night". I've seen my 80-year old parents twice since Christmas 2019. As a Christian, I've been going to church since 9 months before I was born, but I have now not been able to attend church since the last Sunday in February.
I do not share all that in order for you to feel sorry for me. I know I am fortunate, because myself, my wife, my family, and most of my good friends have avoided COVID to this point. I pray everyday we stay well and thank the Good Lord for His protection, as I know that thousands of my fellow Tennesseans and millions of Americans have not been as fortunate. Currently, approximately 590,000 Tennesseans have fallen ill with about 7000 of them losing their life to the virus (here). Nationally, the numbers are much higher as things are getting worse instead of better.
To this point, you have not issued a statewide mask mandate. Your position has been that you prefer to allow local officials to make that decision for the counties and cities where they are in charge. I can respect that - government closer to the people is best. However, it's not working. Most local officials refuse to issue a mask mandate, and many of the ones who have, such as here in Wilson Co., have not allowed for any enforcement action. Therefore, it's the same as not having such a mandate which makes it worthless.
Some Tennesseans feel mask mandates violate their freedom. Well, what about the freedom of us in the high risk group to be able to leave our homes and safely go about our usual activities? Does our freedom not matter since we're sick or old?
Besides, Tennesseans already have to follow safety mandates every day with seatbelt and helmet laws. Both of which are enforced by law enforcement via citations and the associated fines. So, what's the difference between those state law implemented safety measures and a mask mandate during a pandemic? All have the same purpose - enhanced public safety.
Some argue that masks "don't work anyway". There's been studies that support such a viewpoint, but for each one of those studies, another can be found that shows that masks do help prevent the spread of illness. If mask wearing saves the life of one Tennessean, then isn't it worth it?
COVID patients with more severe cases feel like they're suffocating. I have an idea of what that feels like. Do you? I spent several years battling heart failure prior to my transplant. Each night when I'd lay down to try to sleep, I'd feel like I was suffocating. It's a horrible, helpless, scary experience. So, when doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals all across our state beg for a statewide mask mandate as they continue to be overrun with sick, suffering, and dying Tennesseans, they should be listened to. After all, they are the experts.
Some have incorrectly claimed that you do not have the authority to issue a statewide mask mandate. While it is true there is nothing within the state constitution allowing it, there is also nothing within it prohibiting it. However, state law DOES provide you such authority within Tennessee Code Annotated section, "Emergency Management Powers of the Governor", 58-2-107(e)(11). It states that, in addition to your other powers, you may, "Take measures concerning the conduct of civilians". Therefore, you would be legally within your purview as governor to issue the mask mandate.
Over the last few weeks, I've learned of more and more COVID+ cases among people I know personally and their families. I have friends within the healthcare field who are exhausted and stressed. Businesses and livelihoods continue to suffer as Tennesseans can't provide for their families. The suffering and dying has gone on too long already. A statewide mask mandate should've been done months ago. In fact, you said back in July that if we'd had a mask requirement in March, we might not "have had to close everything down".
Governor - it's not too late, but the clock is ticking.
Like you, I'm a Conservative, but I 100% support President-Elect Biden's plan for masks nationwide. I have no doubt you will have opposition to a statewide mandate and maybe a price to pay at the polls. However, good leaders are the ones who have the courage to do the right and needed thing even when it's difficult and unpopular. Tennessee needs you to be that guy right now. We cannot continue to wait on a vaccine as a cure or on a large enough number of Tennesseans to voluntarily put masks on outside their homes to curtail COVID spread. It hasn't worked for 9 months. It's not sustainable, and if you continue to not issue the mandate, it will most certainly result in thousands more Tennesseans suffering and dying from this horrible virus leaving grieving loved ones. 
Please governor - 2021 doesn't have to be like 2020. Issue the statewide mask mandate. Also, give it some teeth with penalties for law enforcement to use to enforce it vigorously. Lives are at stake.
The Second Chance Sheepdog