With widespread outbreaks, hospitals struggle to staff their surge plans

Gov. Bill Lee visiting an alternative care site established at Nashville General Hospital

Gov. Bill Lee on Friday morning announced he will not renew the COVID-19 state of emergency set to expire tonight, a move that will put several health care regulations back into place and end National Guard reinforcement in hospitals.

Tennessee has been under a state of emergency for nearly 20 months, with Lee slowly stripping back mitigation efforts including lockdowns, group limits, social distancing and mask mandates as the pandemic progressed. 

In April, Lee announced then COVID-19 pandemic was “no longer an emergency in Tennessee,” and rolled back provisions under a former executive order that granted local health departments the authority to instate mask mandates.  

The emergency period was extended, however, to keep the health care industry unregulated and continue collecting federal aid. Within a few months, COVID-19 cases and fatalities would reach record highs in the state.

In a statement Friday morning, Lee said his office is “evaluating opportunities for permanent deregulation” and that he could consider temporarily reinstating the emergency period in the face of any future surges. A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to questions Friday afternoon about whether ending the emergency period would block the state from receiving further federal aid. 

Effective tonight, a slew of provisions meant to expand the capacity of health care facilities and their workforce will be put back into place, including some that allowed out-of-state physicians to practice in Tennessee without obtaining a license and gave clinicians more flexibility to care for a broader range of patients as they were stretched thin during surges. The governor’s discretion to use the National Guard to reinforce hospital staff will also be revoked, as well as other measures that were used to expand bed space in the state and facilitate the rollout of telehealth. 

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