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Tennessee governor warns residents not to gather during holidays as state is 'ground zero' for coronavirus

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iStock/narvikkBy: IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee had a grave message for his constituents Sunday: Avoid holiday gatherings and travel.

The state has become “ground zero” in the latest surge of coronavirus cases that are sweeping through the country, he noted.

Tennessee has recorded 65,382 new COVID-19 cases in the last seven days and leads the nation in cases per 100,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lee, who is quarantining after his wife tested positive for the virus over the weekend, said the rise in cases and hospitalizations was caused by Thanksgiving gatherings.

“Tennessee is ground zero for a surge in sickness,” Lee said at a news conference.

The state has 13,745 coronavirus hospitalizations, 6,071 deaths and over 519,000 confirmed cases as of Dec. 20, according to the Tennessee Health Department.

From Dec. 1 to Dec. 20, the seven-day average of new daily cases jumped from 4,703 to 9,025 and the seven-day average of new daily deaths increased from 37 to 86, according to health data.

Lee warned that the next couple of weeks will be critical for the state, and while the rollout of the first two COVID-19 vaccines will help stem the rise in cases, residents still needed to heed health warnings to ensure the state’s health systems aren’t pushed to the brink.

“Tennessee cannot sustain a similar surge after Christmas or New Year’s,” he said.

Lee signed an executive order limiting indoor public gatherings to 10 people. Attendance at indoor sporting events was cut back too. The governor, however, did not issue a statewide mask mandate. Instead, he encouraged constituents to wear face coverings on their own accord.

“Government cannot do this alone,” Lee said. “We are in a cold, cruel phase of this pandemic. It will get worse before it gets better. I know you’re tired, but we’ve got to double down.”

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