Bill Lee Declares Tennessee 'Open' For Tourism Despite Slow Vaccine Rollout

Tennessee is open for tourism, Governor Bill Lee has announced, at a time when the state ranks among the U.S. states with the slowest COVID-19 vaccine rollout so far.

"Whether you're here for the SEC tournament, or whether you're a Spring Breaker just about to be here or someone ... looking for a place to come this summer, Tennessee is open for business," the Republican said in a video announcement tweeted on Thursday.

The state ranks 44th in percentage of vaccines administered, according to a list compiled by Becker's Hospital Review based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Tennessee's Department of Health reported 15.85 percent of Tennesseans have received at least one vaccination dose as of Thursday.

As of the same day, Statista reported Tennessee to have the fifth highest rate of COVID cases among states.

Following his announcement, Lee posted photos of himself visiting local spots in downtown Nashville, posing and interacting with business owners maskless and within close proximity. While Tennessee does not have a statewide mask mandate, Davidson County—where Nashville is located—has required masks to be worn in public spaces since June 2020.

"There's no captions so I'll recap," Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer tweeted in response to Lee's video. "'If you want to come to our state where we are in the bottom percentile of COVID vaccines and the highest %ile of infections, I'll be there to cough in your face but don't count on finding a hospital or getting Medicare!'"

Unmasked & tripping. There’s no captions so I’ll recap. “If you want to come to our state where we are in the bottom percentile of COVID vaccines and the highest %ile of infections, I’ll be there to cough in your face but don’t count on finding a hospital or getting Medicare!”

— Tami Sawyer (@tamisawyer) March 12, 2021

"I prefer it when this guy plays farmer and only threatens the health of his cows," wrote Tennessee State Representative John Ray Clemmons, apparently referring to Lee's cattle farming background.

Newsweek has contacted Lee's office for comment.

In an op-ed for Fox News published this week, Lee and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) criticized the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday, calling it a "hyper-partisan bill" and a "blue state payday."

Last month, Tennessee's GOP-controlled Senate paved the way for Lee to order the state's schools to reopen for in-person learning.

Tennessee has experienced issues with its vaccine rollout. Last month, the health department of Shelby County—the state's most populous county—was suspended from distributing vaccines after state investigations found at least 2,400 doses were wasted. The distribution process was taken over by the city of Memphis, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

Latest daily figures, released on Thursday, showed that Tennessee recorded 1,512 new cases and 17 deaths.

Gov. Bill Lee invites tourists to Tennessee
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee invites tourists to the state in a video announcement shared on Twitter. @GovBillLee/Twitter