NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Thursday is the second day in a row that Tennessee has set a record for the highest amount of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state.

The Department of Health reports 3,500 people are now in hospitals across the state with the virus, 79 are pediatric patients. The state has now exceeded the winter peak seen in January.

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials spoke for the first time about the surge in hospitalizations. Lee said he’s not going to make any changes going forward with the state’s plan to combat COVID-19.

Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said there are 7,700 new positive cases of COVID-19 a day in Tennessee with one-third of those in children.

With school districts across the state closing due to COVID-19 cases, Lee defended his plan to get kids in the classroom, saying parents make the best decisions for their children.

“Districts do have the ability to impose a mask requirement in any school district across the state,” Lee said.

Right now, there is an executive order in place allowing parents to opt out of a mask mandate imposed by school systems.

“You don’t have to have either/or,” Lee said. “We really believe that you can find a way forward that allows for the best adherence possible, and that’s what the strategy is.”

Lee said that best strategy going forward isn’t to mask students but to get more people vaccinated and get more funding to hospitals.

A group of doctors tried to stop the governor after the press conference on Thursday. They wanted to hand-deliver a five-page long petition endorsed by St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis and signed by 6,000 physicians. The letter requested a universal mask mandate and for all children over the age of 12 to get vaccinated. They emphasized hospital capacity is full. Lee ignored the group.

“I cannot tell you how many of my own friends have COVID right now and how many families I have spoke with in the last two weeks, and the kids got COVID at school. This is just reckless,” said Dr. Mary Kline.

While talking with the media on Thursday afternoon, the governor made a push to get more Tennesseans working as COVID cases surge in the state. is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, 4WARN weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from News4 Nashville.

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