In a COVID-19 briefing April 24, Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to begin reopening businesses throughout 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties starting April 27 as coronavirus cases in Tennessee continue to grow.
The governor’s plan, called the Tennessee Pledge, was created by Lee’s Economic Recovery Group and the Unified Command Group with input from health experts, state and local partners and industry leaders, Lee said. The pledge provides guidelines and practices for restaurants and retailers to implement when they will be allowed to reopen April 27 and April 29, respectively.
“[The Tennessee Pledge] includes specific recommendations which enables most businesses to reopen responsibly without the burden of having mandates,” Lee said. “This will be a gradual return to business-as-usual, with room to adjust as we evaluate changing data.”
Under the guidelines from the pledge, restaurants and retailers will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, and the state recommends employees wear cloth masks and continue to practice federal guidelines in regards to hygiene and workplace sanitation standards. The pledge also asks restaurants to keep tables 6 feet apart, not reopen bar areas and outlines safer ways to handle menus and silverware.
Enforcement of the restrictions for reopening businesses would not be enforced by the state, but by consumers and businesses, Lee said.
“We expect that businesses will take and commit to and post this pledge to take care of their customers,” Lee said. “We think the consumer will enforce [the guidelines], the business community itself will enforce them.”
As confirmed coronavirus surpassed 8,000 across the state yesterday with increases of over 400 new cases for the past two days, Lee said the state has been monitoring case data of the coronavirus, and cases with flu-like symptoms have “been on the decrease in almost every hospital in Tennessee.”
“For more than two weeks, we’ve seen a steady downward trajectory in the growth rate of COVID-19 cases,” Lee said. “While our health outlook, thankfully, continues to show signs of improvement in the fight [against] COVID-19, our economic outlook is very different.”
According to the governor, 15% of Tennessee’s workforce has filed for unemployment benefits, and the state projects a $5 billion loss in domestic product for Tennessee in 2020.
“Many Tennesseans are not just facing potential sickness, but they’re facing crippling financial hardship as well, particularly in the service industry,” Lee said.
Counties not included in the plans to reopen include Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties, and a press release from the state government said it was working with those counties on plans to reopen their businesses in the future.
The governor said he would present additional guidelines for gyms, churches, hospitals and physician practices next week, while close contact businesses like barber shops and massage parlors are not expected to be able to reopen until later in May.
“Our approach to rebooting the economy must be steady, methodical and empower opening in a way that doesn’t jeopardize all of the strides that we’ve made so far in attacking COVID-19,” Lee said. “Social distancing works, and it absolutely must continue if we’re going to reopen our economy safely.”