Tennessee OKs most restaurants to reopen as virus cases grow
Apr 27, 2020
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI Associated Press NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Most of Tennessee's restaurants were given the green light to allow dine-in service once again Monday as part of Gov. Bill Lee's directive to begin reopening the state's economy that had been largely closed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The reopening plan comes just a day after the state reported its biggest one-day jump in confirmed coronavirus cases. Lee, a Republican, announced last week that he would not extend the state's mandatory safer-at-home order when it expires April 30. Instead, he said 89 out of Tennessee's 95 counties could slowly reopen with restaurants continuing dine-in service on Monday and retail stores being allowed in-person shopping on Wednesday. Lee also released social distancing guidelines that urge businesses to provide protective equipment and keep capacity at 50%. Those guidelines will not be enforced by the state, but Lee said he expects businesses and customers to help ensure the recommendations are implemented. The remaining six counties, which include the higher-population areas of Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, could decide on their own when to reopen. However, the governor's office clarified over the weekend that counties would hold the sole authority when it came to reopening. This means Chattanooga's restaurants would be allowed dine-in services after Hamilton County announced it would follow Lee's plan. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke had previously objected to reopening after noting that he had not seen an adequate drop in coronavirus case numbers . However, until Lee's administration clarified this weekend, Berke said he had been under the impression he would have local control over the decision. “(Despite) public and private assurances otherwise, the city of Chattanooga would not be making its own decisions for the reopening of restaurants. This has understandably caused a lot of confusion for a lot of people in our city,” Berke said in a statement. Berke said Chattanooga would obey the governor's directive and would work to protect residents from contracting the virus. Meanwhile, in Knoxville, local leaders said most businesses in Knox County would reopen starting May 1 as part of a phase-in plan released on Monday. This includes not only restaurants and retail stores to reopen, but also theaters, gyms, churches, salons and barbershops as long as they maintain social distancing guidelines. In Shelby County — which encompasses Memphis — Mayor Lee Harris has extended a stay-at-home order until April 30, while Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has extended the city’s order until May 5. In Nashville, officials say the city could start reopening at the beginning of May if certain benchmarks are met, including 14 days of an “acceptably stable or sustained declining trend” of new cases. The reopening plan comes as Tennessee reported its biggest one-day jump in confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were at least 9,667 confirmed cases as of Sunday. The 478 new cases represents a 5.2% jump from Saturday’s total. It was the highest number of new virus cases recorded in one day in the state as testing efforts increase. Separately, case numbers in an eastern Tennessee prison also continue to spike. Correction officials say 576 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which houses 3,100 inmates. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.