No, Bill Lee Did Not Sanction ‘Quarantine Camps’ for Unvaccinated Tennesseans

Pastor Greg Locke either fundamentally misunderstood, or grossly misrepresented, the contents of Executive Order 83, signed by the Republican governor in August 2021.

  • Published
Person, Human, Crowd
Image via Getty Images/Stock photo

Claim

In August 2021, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order that authorized the construction of "quarantine camps" for individuals who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Rating

Origin

Snopes is still fighting an “infodemic” of rumors and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and you can help. Find out what we’ve learned and how to inoculate yourself against COVID-19 misinformation. Read the latest fact checks about the vaccines. Submit any questionable rumors and “advice” you encounter. Become a Founding Member to help us hire more fact-checkers. And, please, follow the CDC or WHO for guidance on protecting your community from the disease.

In August 2021, right-wing Tennessee pastor Greg Locke used one of his regular sermons to rail against aspects of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 mitigation policies, and attacked Republican Gov. Bill Lee, falsely claiming Lee had authorized the construction of “quarantine camps” for residents who refused to be vaccinated against the virus. 

Locke’s remarks, which were first reported by Right Wing Watch, came in the context of his Aug. 8 sermon at the Global Vision Bible Church in Juliet, Tennessee. There, he railed against virus lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates, and called Lee “a coward,” “a noodle,” and a “waffler.” The sermon can be watched in full here. The following is an edited transcript of the relevant section, which begins around the 1:39:00 mark, and a clip from the sermon can be watched below. 

Did you see this nonsense our governor signed?…Did you see the executive order he just signed for COVID-19?…He has authorized the power of the National Guard to get involved in issues of COVID-19… You know what bothers me more about the National Guard getting involved? Why don’t you look at Section 8 of what he signed? They have authorized…the Tennessee Department of FEMA to build what they call — in its own authorized pages of a signature! — “quarantine camps.”

I ain’t talking about East Germany! I’m talking about Tennessee! “Quarantine camps.” For the uninformed people that are still in refusal to be vaccinated. Look, if that don’t bother you, you might as well show up at another church next week. 

 
While it’s not entirely clear what “its own authorized pages of a signature” means, it appears Locke was referring to Executive Order 83, signed by Lee on Aug. 6, which was entitled “An Order to Facilitate the Continued Response to COVID-19.” Examination of the text of the order reveals that Locke either fundamentally misunderstood, or grossly misrepresented, its contents, and we are issuing a rating of “False.”

Section 8 of that order grants the governor discretion to deploy the National Guard and State Guard in certain supplementary healthcare roles if hospital and care facility capacity and human resources are stretched, including ambulance driving and COVID-19 testing. 

Section 18 is subtitled “Temporary quarantine and isolation facilities may be constructed,” and states:

The provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 68-11-202(c)(1)-(8), are hereby suspended to allow for the construction of temporary structures, the plans for which would otherwise be subject to review for new construction, additions, or substantial alterations, as directed by the Commissioner of Health and the Director of TEMA in response to COVID-19; provided, that there shall be inspections of such structures to ensure safety, as necessary.

Section 68-11-202(c) of the Tennessee Code sets out various planning and building regulations that relate to any facility that requires licensing by the state Department of Health (i.e. healthcare facilities), including the requirement to submit detailed construction and use plans to the department, and obtain permission to begin construction.

In suspending those regulations, Lee’s order would speed up the process of building temporary quarantine and isolation facilities, should they be required, for individuals who are obliged to quarantine or self-isolate because they have tested positive for COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone in that position. 

Although many private businesses require proof of vaccination in order to access goods and services, and some state and local governments are considering proposals to introduce “vaccine passports,” quarantine and self-isolation regulations are in place for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, and their close contacts — not individuals who are unvaccinated. 

The executive order does not even affirmatively order the actual construction of such facilities, but rather removes one set of regulatory obstacles for such construction. The putative facilities in question would be for use by COVID-positive individuals and their contacts, and not unvaccinated Tennesseans. Contrary to Locke’s energetic exclamations, the text of the executive order never once refers to “quarantine camps,” not least because that’s not what they would be.