Gov. Bill Lee says his family has canceled its large annual Thanksgiving gathering
Gov. Bill Lee says his family has called off its large annual Thanksgiving gathering, a decision they made as Americans this week grapple with whether to meet for the holidays amid a worsening pandemic.
The governor said Tuesday the Lee family will not gather for its annual large extended-family Thanksgiving meal.
"That was a difficult one for our family since we’ve done it every year of my life," Lee said. "That decision was tough for us, but it doesn’t have to be discouraging."
He plans to hold a smaller gathering outside.
"A few of us will eat dinner on the back porch and change the way we do it," Lee said at his weekly briefing. "For me and my family, Thanksgiving isn't about a meal anyway. It's about being thankful for the many blessings God has given us in spite of the challenges we face."
In the last month, the pandemic in Tennessee has reached record heights.
Tennessee is reporting an average of about 45 deaths each day as the state faces its highest levels of hospitalizations, currently more than 1,900.
The state's weekly positivity rate of coronavirus tests has steadily increased, now reaching its highest ever at 13.2%.
Unlike some governors who have issued bans on Thanksgiving gatherings of certain sizes, Lee has opted not to do.
"We're not going to mandate how a family gathers at Thanksgiving. I want to be real clear about that," Lee said, adding the state instead wants families to "think hard" about what plans they make.
Health commissioner Lisa Piercey also said her family would be "reimagining" the holidays this year.
"This Thanksgiving will be a smaller gathering for us, and I encourage every Tennessean to consider the same," Piercey said.
Despite Lee's announcement about his family's canceled Thanksgiving gathering, Lee last Sunday hosted a "Supper on the Farm," a Nov. 8 outdoor dinner that the governor holds as a campaign fundraiser on his Williamson County property.
Photos from the event showed the governor and other people gathered outside, mostly without masks. It's unclear how many people attended the event.
"Every gathering is different," Lee said, when asked about holding the fundraiser. "That gathering was outdoors, and it was spread apart and people were able to socially distance outdoors. That event was really different than 45 family members in my mom's house for two hours for Thanksgiving dinner."
Despite resisting calls to implement a statewide mask mandate, the governor has stressed the importance of state residents voluntarily wearing masks in some settings.
Lee, discussing his own efforts to protect family members, has said he has exercised particular caution around his elderly mother.
He and First Lady Maria Lee voluntarily quarantined at home for two weeks in October after being exposed to the coronavirus by one of Lee's assigned state troopers who contracted it. Neither Lee nor his wife tested positive.
The governor, Piercey and the state's three constitutional officers are all scheduled to attend a House Republican Caucus retreat on Friday at Pickwick Landing State Park in Hardin County.
Lee said he plans to wear a mask.
"I will make sure that my part there will be safe," he said.
The caucus is holding the retreat as an overnight event from Thursday to Saturday, with the presentations from Lee and others scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Reach Natalie Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.
Want to read more stories like this? A subscription to one of our Tennessee publications gets you unlimited access to all the latest politics news, podcasts like Grand Divisions, plus newsletters, a personalized mobile experience and the ability to tap into stories, photos and videos from throughout the USA TODAY Network's 261 daily sites.