Skip to content

State better equipped than counties at controlling pandemic, county mayor says

By Steve Short


The coronavirus pandemic continued spreading in Tennessee last week.

Forty-two people in the state died in a single day due to the virus, the state Department of Health reported on Aug. 6. It was the highest, single day increase in fatalities since the pandemic began.

153 new deaths during the week of Aug. 3-7 raised the state’s total pandemic fatalities to nearly 1,200 people over six months. New deaths were up 42% in the state last week.

In a week, Tennessee added nearly 13,500 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases to 116,300, with 37,606 active cases.

In Gibson County, three more people died from the coronavirus last week, bringing the death toll to four. 644 people in the county were infected, an increase of 144 people in a single week.

Governor Bill Lee has turned to county mayors to require face masks to combat the pandemic.

Last week, Gibson County Mayor Tom Witherspoon posed the question: “Who is better equipped, staffed and funded to manage a pandemic?”

State vs. county

“Let’s look at the numbers,” Witherspoon said, suggesting the state – not counties – has the authority and resources to effectively slow the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Number of public health management officials on staff: State of Tennessee – 2,800, Gibson County – 0.
  • Dollars appropriated to manage public health: State of Tennessee – $692,515,900. Gibson County – $0
  • Total annual budgets: State of Tennessee – $40.8 billion. Gibson County – $28.4 million.
  • Number of medical doctors on staff: State of Tennessee – A bunch. Gibson County – 0.
  • Number of officers under direct authority to enforce a mask mandate – Governor Lee (Not sure of the exact number, but hundreds). Mayor Spoon – 0.

“You can throw in the fact, that on April 28, Gov. Lee ordered State Attorney General Slattery to send the county mayors a letter, stating that Governor Lee was, in effect, stripping local mayors of our authority to manage our emergency locally and wait on our numbers to meet the Trump task force’s guidelines before reopening,” said Witherspoon.

“Governor Lee DID NOT wait for 14 consecutive days of downward trending COVID numbers (per the President Trump Task Force guidelines) before reopening,” said Witherspoon. “So we have what we have today. It’s caught fire.”

“On Friday, July 3 at 4:30 in the afternoon (without prior notice and on the observed day of the Fourth of July holiday, which was a nice touch), after our statewide COVID numbers had blown up like a poorly handled Molotov cocktail, Governor Lee hot potatoes the ‘mask mandate’ problem back in the county mayors’ laps,” said Witherspoon.

“Issuing mask mandates county-by-county during a pandemic is like trying to manage which part of the pool it’s okay to tinkle in,” said Witherspoon. “It just doesn’t work. If it’s a necessity, it should be done statewide, like our neighboring states’ governors have done.

“I fully understand the game of ‘Kick The Can.’ But as county mayors, we don’t have anyone to kick to. So we’re left with just doing the best we can with what little we have – which is ZERO!

“The reason we pay federal and state taxes, is so we can have overarching strategies and leadership in times of crisis to address disasters EXACTLY like this one!

“So again I ask you: Who is better equipped, staffed and funded to manage a pandemic? Governor Lee or Mayor Spoon?

“With all due respect.

Be smart. Stay safe,” he said.

Leave a Comment