The emergency declaration frees up additional funds and relaxes rules surrounding assistance from state agencies to affected communities.
Lee made the announcement after saying earlier this week he did not believe an emergency declaration was necessary. However, by Thursday, Lee said the situation had changed and the amount of COVID-19 case clusters had increased.
“As we continue to learn more, our response will continue to evolve,” Lee told reporters.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
As of Thursday, Tennessee had nine confirmed cases of coronavirus. Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, who joined Lee at Thursday’s event, says the state currently has 500 coronavirus tests.
Currently, the department is only providing the locations of where the virus cases have been confirmed after initially refusing to do so. Information about age and gender of coronavirus patients is not being released.
The department has cited protecting patient privacy as the reason, but Lee noted that the situation was fluid and policy decision could change in the future.
Meanwhile, classes have been canceled in two large Tennessee school districts as a response to the outbreak.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray says schools will be closed from Friday through March 27.
Students have their scheduled spring break and will be away from schools from Monday through March 20. Classes are canceled the following week, with students scheduled to return March 30.
Shelby County Schools has about 100,000 students in more than 200 schools. The school district will be using off days reserved for inclement weather to make up for the loss of instructional days, Ray said in a news release Thursday.
“Closing schools is never a decision that we take lightly,” the news release said.
Shelby County, which includes Memphis, has one confirmed coronavirus patient, but there is no current threat to schools, the statement said. One school employee who had contact with the Shelby County patient has been released from quarantine, Ray said during a news conference Wednesday.
Schools will undergo a deep cleaning during the closure. During the news conference, Ray noted that many students and their parents depend on breakfast and lunch offered at schools.
Schools in Davidson County, which includes Nashville, are closed Thursday and Friday. Universities and colleges in Tennessee have temporarily canceled in-person classes.
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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.