Tennessee OKs most restaurants to reopen as virus cases grow
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 governor’s office said over the weekend that the remaining six counties — which include the higher-population areas of Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga — had the sole authority on what and when to reopen.
That announcement wasn’t what Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke expected to hear. He said he was under the impression that he would have decision-making authority for his city, not the county.
“I understood that we were going to have local control. We don’t,” Berke, whose city is part of Hamilton County, told reporters Monday. Hamilton County plans to open on Lee’s schedule.
Berke added that his biggest problem is that he feels people are confused and downplayed any potential “power struggle” between him and the governor.
Lee declined to specifically address why Berke was caught off guard when pressed by reporters on Monday. Lee said he regularly talks to all mayors.
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 but also theaters, gyms, churches, salons and barbershops as long as they maintain social distancing guidelines.
The mayors of Memphis and Shelby County have both issued stay-at-home orders currently scheduled to end this week in the county and next week in the city.
The city and county may extend their orders with revisions, as long as case and hospitalization data allows for the planned gradual reopening, but officials wouldn’t commit to time frame Monday.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, plus the mayors of seven other suburban municipalities in the county, said during a news conference Monday that they are working together to form a plan for a gradual reopening.
“We all anticipate that we’ll try as best we can to accommodate all the various perspectives around this county and together decide on what to do going forward,” Harris said.
Strickland said one reason the city issues its own order is to allow code officers or police to enforce rules in his orders for businesses and large gatherings of people.
Strickland issued rules Monday that would be applied during a gradual re-opening, including allowing elective surgeries at hospitals, requiring restaurants and nonessential businesses like clothing stores to operate at only 50 percent capacity and require employees of those businesses to wear masks.
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.
By Monday, case numbers jumped another 251, to a total of 9,918.
Separately, case numbers in an eastern Tennessee prison also continue to spike. The Department of Correction reported that 576 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which houses 3,100 inmates.
Eighty percent of those inmates are asymptomatic, an agency spokeswoman said Monday. Three remain hospitalized.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services said 22 youths and seven staff members at a juvenile treatment facility in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett has have tested positive for COVID-19.
Another 91 inmates have tested positive at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, which is privately run by CoreCivic. None of the inmates tested had symptoms at the time, CoreCivic said.
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.
Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.