Note This story was last updated at 7:45 p.m.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee continued to climb Monday, Governor Bill Lee issued a “safer at home” order that urged residents to stay home unless they are engaged in essential activities and it required non-essential businesses to close to the public, although curbside and delivery service will be allowed.
Critics immediately suggested the order wasn’t strong enough. Some would like a shelter in place order or stay at home order that does more than urge people to stay home.
The governor’s office said the new order, Executive Order 22, implements “safer at home” guidelines in every Tennessee county to further help slow the spread of COVID-19, a contagious respiratory illness that has no cure and can cause severe symptoms and lead to hospitalization and death. The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed 1,834 cases in the state on Monday, with 148 hospitalizations and 13 deaths. The number of cases has more than doubled in the past five days, Lee’s order said.
The governor’s order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, March 31, and it will continue through 11:59 p.m. Central time on April 14.
“This is not a mandated shelter in place, but instead urges Tennesseans who are in non-essential roles to remain at home,” the governor’s office said.
The executive order restricts businesses that cannot safely operate during COVID-19 including businesses like barber shops, salons, and recreational and entertainment outfits, Lee’s office said. It also provides for the continuation of essential businesses throughout every county to protect the economy, the office said.
The order said non-essential businesses and organizations cannot be accessed by the public, but they are strongly encouraged to provide delivery services, which could include curbside service.
A previous order, issued Sunday, March 22, ordered gyms and fitness centers to temporarily close and it prohibited eating inside restaurants, but it allowed food to be sold through drive-throughs and in take-out orders. It also restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. A second order issued that same day said businesses that perform close-contact personal services such as hair salons, barber shops, tanning salons, and tattoo and massage shops shall not be open. Also ordered closed were entertainment and recreational businesses such as night clubs, bowling alleys, music venues, amusement parks, theaters, and roller rinks. The new order does not change those orders.
The new order said employers cannot require or allow employees to work with COVID-19. Critical infrastructure in the state will continue operating, the order said, and special care should be taken to protect vulnerable people.
Under Lee’s order, essential services include:
- health care and public health operations,
- human services operations,
- essential infrastructure operations,
- essential government functions,
- food and medicine stores,
- food and beverage production and agriculture,
- organizations that provide charitable and social services,
- religious and ceremonial functions,
- gas stations and transportation businesses,
- financial institutions and insurance agencies,
- hardware and supply stores,
- critical trades,
- mail and shipping services,
- educational institutions,
- laundry services,
- restaurants for carry-out or delivery service,
- supplies for work at home and for essential businesses and operations,
- home-based care and services,
- residential facilities and shelters,
- professional services,
- manufacturing and supply chains for critical products and industries,
- hotels and motels, and
- funeral services.
Under Lee’s order, essential activities include:
- Activities essential to someone’s health and safety or the health and safety of pets. This could include leaving home to buy groceries, household products, supplies required to work from home, automotive supplies, and products necessary for the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of homes.
- Providing or receiving delivery or carry-out deliveries from businesses or organizations that are not considered essential.
- Engaging in outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, running, and biking as long as people follow health guidelines as much as possible while using public parks and outdoor recreation areas. But congregating or playing on playgrounds is regarded as a risk to the spread of COVID-19, and it is not considered an essential activity.
- Caring for or visiting a family member, friend, or pet in another home, or giving a ride to or traveling with family members, friends, pets, as long as health guidelines are followed as much as possible.
- Visiting a place of worship or attending a wedding or funeral as long as health guidelines are followed as much as possible. The governor recommends that the public parts of weddings and funerals be postponed or attended only by close family members.
- Essential travel, which includes travel for essential activities or services, to care for certain groups of people, for certain activities for educational institutions, travel to and from the state, and travel required by laws, law enforcement, or court orders.
The health guidelines cited by Lee include working from home whenever possible, avoiding social gatherings of 10 or more people, avoiding discretionary travel and social visits, avoiding people who are sick, practicing good hygiene such as frequently washing hands, and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people.
Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, said Monday’s order was a “big step” but a necessary one.
“Most population centers in our state are already operating under these conditions,” McNally said. “Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. The most important part of this order is that it sends the message the governor has been sending for many days now in no uncertain terms: Stay home and stay apart.”
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said Lee’s order was the right decision, even if it is painful.
“Everything I’ve learned as chairman of the United States Senate health committee persuades me to support his decision,” Alexander said. “Staying at home is an essential step one in containing the disease and saving lives. New federal laws will help keep many payrolls coming and relieve some financial burdens. I am hard at work on step two, a new ‘Manhattan Project’ to produce the largest possible number of COVID-19 tests with quick results that will detect and isolate the few who are sick and care for them so the rest of America can go back to work, back to school, and out to eat. At the same time, Congress has already put $11 billion into step three: a massive effort to create treatments and hopefully a vaccine.”
The governor has established a website with COVID-19 updates here.
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