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Tennessee cities, counties broaden closures amid coronavirus

March 24, 2020 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — More cities and counties in Tennessee on Monday issued strict orders for nonessential businesses to shut down temporarily and people to stay at home as much as possible to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Memphis; Knox County, which includes Knoxville; Sumner County and Chattanooga were among the local governments to join metro Nashville in issuing the so-called safer-at-home orders. Tennessee has so far stopped short of the kind of broad stay-at-home mandates announced in a growing number of states, including California, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.

“For me, it’s about the right time for the right decision in the right place,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who added that “nothing is off the table.” “Every city is different. Every county is different. Every state is different. There’s no one-size-fits-all. There’s no guaranteed solution.”

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The directives also strongly discourage any gatherings and ban those with more than 10 people.

Various businesses would not need to close their doors, including grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, laundromats and restaurants offering takeout and delivery only. Child care businesses will stay open. Key government functions will continue. Officials still want people to get outside for fresh air, albeit at a proper distance from others.

At the state level, Lee has ordered gyms to close, bars and restaurants to offer takeout and delivery only, and people to stop gathering in groups of more than 10.

A group of Tennessee doctors contends Lee didn’t go far enough, saying he should have ordered all residents to shelter in their homes for 14 days.

Lee on Monday ordered a halt to nonemergency dental work and nonessential hospital and surgical outpatient procedures, prohibiting “at a minimum” nonemergency joint replacement, bariatric surgery and cosmetic surgery. The order encouraged nonhospital health care providers to share their personal protective equipment to help fight the coronavirus.

Lee also said one member of his staff tested positive for the coronavirus. Lee said his exposure to that employee was “very limited” and he has had no symptoms, so he said he feels confident about his own situation.

Lee tapped his finance commissioner, Stuart McWhorter, to leave that post and lead the coordination of the administration’s COVID-19 response team, which includes leaders of state health, emergency management and military departments.

The governor also said several Tennessee higher education institutions are using 3D printers to create 1,500 to 2,000 face shields for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the safer-at-home order goes into effect in the city of about 650,000 people starting Tuesday. It runs through April 7.

Essential workers, such as police, fire, medical and emergency crews, are exempt, as are ride share drivers, construction and auto repair workers, workers at the Memphis-based shipping giant FedEx, and child care services.

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The second-term mayor said the order to stay home is necessary to avoid “rampant infection throughout our city, causing health care providers to ration life-saving medical equipment.”

“It will be enforced through the social pressure of all of us,” he told reporters during an in-person news conference at city hall. Both Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper have started holding news conferences remotely.

Nonessential businesses and large gatherings of people could receive citations, Strickland said.

The number of confirmed cases in Tennessee on Monday rose to more than 600. Nashville’s updated total topped 180, while Shelby County, which includes Memphis, reported 80 cases. Two deaths related to the coronavirus have been confirmed in the state.

On Instagram late Sunday, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan posted that her brother was the second person to die of COVID-19 in Tennessee. Flanagan said her brother, Ron Golden, died Saturday. He had been diagnosed with cancer several weeks ago and his immune system was compromised, she said. He was put in a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For people with existing health problems and older adults, it can cause more severe illness requiring hospitalization.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee. Associated Press reporter Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.