The Latest: Tenn. governor enacts new virus restrictions

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People line up for a free dinner at a soup kitchen in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This soup kitchen is operated by neighbors who are in charge of preparing food and serving it to the public for free. The Secretariat of Inclusion and Social Welfare of Mexico City started its soup kitchenprogram in 2009. (AP Photo/Ginnette Riquelme)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has announced new social gathering restrictions while still refusing to implement a mask mandate despite pleas from front-line healthcare workers in a state experiencing the highest new cases per capita in the country.

Instead of a mask mandate, the Republican on Sunday signed an executive order limiting public gatherings to 10 people. However, places of worship, weddings and funerals are exempt from the order.

He called the state “ground zero” in the COVID-19 battle and urged Tennesseans not to gather with people outside their immediate households during the upcoming holidays. His message comes just a day after Lee confirmed that his wife Maria had tested positive for COVID-19. Lee says he has tested negative but will remain in quarantine at the governor’s residence.

Tennessee is one of a dozen states without a mask mandate. Instead, local counties have the option of implementing their own mask restrictions.

Lee was originally scheduled to take reporter questions after his statewide address, but his office later postponed that until Monday without giving a reason why.



In Congress, negotiators have reached agreement on a new round of pandemic aid that would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefits and $600 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, along with a fresh round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and funding for schools, health care providers, and renters facing eviction. An expert committee has put people 75 and older and essential workers like firefighters, teachers and grocery store workers next in line for COVID-19 shots as a second vaccine began rolling out to U.S. hospitals. European countries are halting U.K. flights, fearing a new coronavirus variant. The variant seems to spread more easily than others, though experts are unsure about that, and they add that there is no evidence that it is any deadlier.