Note: This story was last updated at 1:45 p.m. April 14.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Monday said he will extend the state’s “stay at home order” through Thursday, April 30.
The order, issued Thursday, April 2, had been scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, but it has been extended for 16 days. The order requires Tennessee residents to stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities. (You can learn more about essential businesses and services in the image above and on this website page.)
The order was extended to the end of the month in cooperation with guidance from the White House, Lee said during a press conference broadcast online on Monday afternoon. The governor’s updated executive order is available here.
Tennessee has had more than 10 days of single-digit growth, rather than double-digit growth, in the number of COVID-19 cases, Lee said, calling the trend encouraging.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, and it could be some time,” Lee said. “But it is clear that the actions that we take at the state, combined with the local level—most importantly with the determination of our citizens and the bravery of our first responders and our health care workers on the front lines—those efforts have saved countless lives across Tennessee, and for that we are thankful.”
The governor’s new executive order, Executive Order 27, extends temporary social distancing and the stay-at-home provisions of previous executive orders that, among other things:
- prohibited social gatherings of 10 or more people;
- told restaurants, bars, and similar food and drink establishments to offer take-out or delivery options only;
- directed gyms and fitness or exercise centers to temporarily close and suspend in-person services;
- restricted visitation in nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care or assisted-living facilities; and
- applied to close-contact personal services and entertainment and recreational gathering venues.
The “stay at home” order has been in place as Tennessee, like other states and countries around the world, tries to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a contagious respiratory illness that can be deadly.
The stay-at-home order followed an earlier “safer at home” order that urged people to stay home except for essential business.
Lee said Tennessee residents have to remain vigilant until a treatment is widely available. That means they need to incorporate social distancing and good hygiene in their daily routines, or “we have a very serious risk that this disease could come roaring back and erase all the progress that we have made to date,” the governor said.
“Until a vaccine or a therapy is widely available to Tennesseans, this virus will be a present reality for us to manage and consider whenever we are making decisions,” Lee said.
The economy can’t stay shut down for months on end, the governor said.
State officials are left with a clear but complicated task, Lee said: How to operate the economy safely while suppressing the spread of COVID-19.
Unemployment claims in Tennessee have been filed at 25 times the normal rate, with more than 250,000 initial claims in the past three weeks, Lee said.
“We need Tennesseans to go back to work,” the governor said. “But we also need everyone to recognize that physical distancing must continue for the foreseeable future.”
The state will plan to re-open the Tennessee economy in May in a “phased reboot,” Lee said.
The rest of this month, the state’s Unified Command Group will continue to consult with experts, analyze all available data, and monitor recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between now and the beginning of May, state officials will prepare industry-specific guidance so businesses can be prepared to operate safely and protect employees and customers, Lee said.
To take steps to re-open the economy, he said, decisions will have to be coordinated with health care officials and consider the capacity of health care systems and supplies of personal protective equipment—to make certain that if there are additional cases in Tennessee, the state is prepared to respond. The state should have continued to “flatten the curve,” have broader testing across the state, and have sufficient personal protective equipment and hospital bed capacity, Lee said.
“Safety and health is most important, but…our economy can’t stay shut down for months on end,” Lee said. “We have a clear path forward to take. The direction and the specific steps in that path are not determined yet, but we’ll take them considering that balance.”
Lee’s office said the state’s Unified Command Group will continue to consult with experts, analyze all available data, and monitor recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the rest of this month.
On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported that there had been 5,610 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 109 deaths and 1,671 recoveries.
On Monday, Lee announced the creation of an Economic Recovery Group to focus on the “phased reboot” of the state economy. The group will be led by Tourism Commissioner Mark Ezell, and it will work in coordination with legislative leadership, local mayors, health care professionals, and representatives of affected industries, the governor’s office said. The Economic Recovery Group will issue industry-specific guidance so that businesses can be prepared to operate safely and protect their employees and customers.
“By formalizing an economic recovery specific group, this will ensure the Unified Command Group will continue their focused efforts of disease management, improving hospital and testing capacity, and increasing our PPE (personal protective equipment) supply chain,” the governor’s office said. “The Unified Command Group will also be making recommendations to Governor Lee about when and how to begin the phased-in reopening of the economy.”
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