Gov. Bill Lee

Gov. Bill Lee gives a statewide address on Sunday, Dec. 20.

In a Sunday night statewide address, Gov. Bill Lee announced that he will be signing an executive order limiting all indoor public gatherings to 10 people or less, including indoor preps sporting events.

The order comes as cases of COVID-19 have surged across the state. Right now, Tennessee has the single highest number of new daily cases of the virus in the country.

"We now have around 10,000 Tennesseans getting sick every day - to put that in perspective, that’s three times where we were around Halloween," Lee said during his address.

"Thousands of our neighbors are in the hospital tonight. More than 100 people are dying each day. We are in a war. With the arrivals of the first vaccine, we have launched an offensive that will end this war. But it is the next few weeks that is going to be the most critical for our state."

Set to go into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20, the executive order mandates that Tennesseans "shall not in any event be in a group of 10 or more persons in an indoor public place for the purposes of social gatherings, activities or events."

Despite this proclamation, the executive order goes on to specify that it "does not necessarily prohibit 10 or more persons from gathering in a single place or venue," and that more than 10 people may gather in one place granted they are separated into smaller groups that are able to maintain distance from each other.

Funerals, weddings and places of worships are also not considered social gatherings under the executive order, and therefore are not required to adhere to the indoor limit of 10 or less people.

Before announcing his intent to limit all indoor gatherings across the state, Lee made a plea to all Tennesseans to do their part in helping curb the spread of COVID-19.

"I am asking you to not engage in indoor gatherings for the holidays that include anyone outside your household," Lee said.

"Family time and celebrations are important. I understand deeply how much Tennessee families need each other. But we must do all that we can to blunt this surge and keep more Tennesseans from getting sick."

Lee explained that his executive order will also apply to indoor sporting events and their spectators, while also acknowledging the importance such events have for many Tennesseans.

Lee also asked business owners to allow for employees to work home for the next 30 days, and urged those employers that if remote work was not possible, that they should require their employees wear masks.

While Lee shared his belief that "masks work," he fell short of issuing a statewide mask mandate similar to those seen in California or Texas.

"Many think a statewide mandate would improve mask wearing, many think it would have the opposite effect," Lee said. "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."

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