By TRAVIS LOLLER Associated Press
Nashville, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday would not say whether he would be vaccinated against COVID-19 when a vaccine becomes available. His comments came during a news conference at which he also announced that the Education Department will provide information on COVID-19 cases in public schools.
Public health departments are being told to prepare to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as early as Nov. 1. and Lee said the state is working to develop a distribution plan.
But the Republican also called a decision to vaccinate a personal choice and said he would do what he would want all Tennesseans to do. "I'll determine if I believe it is safe and effective and talk to my doctor," Lee said.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said at the news conference that the Nov. 1 date should be taken as a loose timeframe for when some of the first doses might be available. Piercey said she expects a phased rollout of the vaccine and has heard there may be two different vaccines distributed.
With regard to COVID-19 cases in the public schools, Lee had initially said the state would not collect that data but he soon reversed course and said his administration was asking for federal guidance about what could be disclosed without violating student privacy laws.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced the plan on Thursday, saying the Department has developed a dashboard on its website where citizens can find information about COVID-19 cases in the public schools.
The dashboard will go live on Tuesday and will provide information about new COVID-19 cases in students and staff at both the district level and the individual school level. New cases numbers will be uploaded by the close of business on Monday for the previous week.
In order to not violate student privacy, schools with fewer than 50 students will not be included on the dashboard, Schwinn said. Schools reporting fewer than five positive student or employee cases will be listed as having active cases but without specific numbers.
Also at the Thursday news conference, Health Commissioner Piercey said the department has made a change to how it counts active cases. Instead of assuming that cases are active for 21 days, the department is switching to a 14-day limit.
Because of the change, every county will show a drop in active case numbers and an increase in the number of inactive cases, Piercey said. The change was being rolled out Thursday afternoon. In addition, 1,700 cases that had been assigned to the wrong counties were being reassigned. About two dozen counties will see their numbers rise or fall because of that change, Piercey said.
Meanwhile, Lee confirmed that he will seek a second term in office, saying he loves the job and plans to keep it as long as Tennesseans want him.
While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older people and those with existing health problems.