Tennessee releases more detailed guidelines for reopening restaurants, retailers

David Floyd • Apr 24, 2020 at 7:22 PM

Employees should wear protective equipment, businesses should conduct frequent cleanings and symptoms among workers should be reported to a supervisor.

Suggested as precautions against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), state officials say those are just some of the conditions under which restaurants and retail businesses in Tennessee should operate when they reopen Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

“Much of our state’s current success in this fight is because Tennesseans naturally choose to put each other first,” said Gov. Bill Lee during a press conference on Friday. “They naturally choose to voluntarily adapt safe practices. It’s that volunteer spirit that has been fighting this pandemic, and it’s that same volunteer spirit that will help us rebuild our economy.”

As the state stages a “phased reboot” of its economy, the governor said he plans to address guidance for gyms, churches, hospitals and physician practices next week. He added, however, that some businesses will not be scheduled to open until later in May.

Lee said “close contact” services such as barbershops, salons, tattoo parlors and massage businesses will remain closed for at least a couple more weeks.

“We’re going to get those open as soon as we can,” Lee said, “but we want to make sure we have appropriate guidance in place, and we have an adequate supply of masks and gloves and other (personal protective equipment) before those businesses can open.”

Among other expectations, the state is asking that restaurants limit seating capacity to 50% of normal, space tables six feet apart and limit seating per table to six people. The state says restaurants should also keep bar areas closed, screen customers with basic questions about COVID-19 symptoms and forego live music.

Businesses should sanitize all front-house surfaces every two hours and halt self-serve buffets, shared condiments and reuse of their beverage stations.

The state’s recommendations for retailers includes limiting occupancy to 50% of capacity, having customers wear masks when inside stores and implementing dedicated shopping hours for at-risk populations. The state also asks that retail outlets increase curbside, pickup and delivery options.

Assembled using input from the state’s economic recovery group, the “Tennessee Pledge,” the name for the recommendations, outlines guidelines for 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Asked for clarification on enforcement, Lee said the state believes consumers, the business community and influential industry groups will enforce these guidelines.

“What we know is that, in the same way that Tennesseans came together to put us in the position to be able to begin to reboot our economy, we know Tennesseans once again will put us in a position to have our economy start back up,” Lee said.

Local actions

Both Washington County and Johnson City indicated Friday that they would follow the governor’s lead in conducting a phased reboot of the local economy.

In a news release, Johnson City said it would modify its safer at home order to allow for restaurants and retailers to operate at 50% capacity. The city will also modify its safer at home order, which was originally scheduled to expire on April 27, to end on April 30.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do with a local stay at home order after April 30 until we learn more about what the governor’s plans are sometime next week,” Peterson said.

The city and Pepsi Bottling Co. have also decided to cancel this year’s Independence Day Fireworks Celebration at Freedom Hall Civic Center.

Peterson said planning an event on the scale of the annual Independence Day celebration takes many months. With the city being unsure when the federal government would reverse guidelines that advise against gatherings of more than 10 people, Peterson said it was important to make a decision about the event now.

Additionally, Peterson said the city’s budget, like other local governments, has been devastated by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak. He noted that the fireworks celebration typically costs the city about $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

“In light of the cuts we’re being forced to make in operations and whatnot in the current year and next year, it was also done as a budget saving move,” he said.

Summer camps, events, and sports programs have been canceled and pavilion rentals are suspended until further notice. Additionally, the Legion Street Pool will not open this summer.

Weekend testing

Tennessee will hold a second round of mass testing this weekend at 18 sites across the state, including two in Northeast Tennessee.

Testing will be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Greene County Fairgrounds, 123 Fairgrounds Circle in Greeneville, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Volunteer High School, 1050 Volunteer Street in Church Hill.

Of the 11,230 tests conducted at 33 sites last weekend, Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Thursday about 1.2% of the tests came back positive.

“While we do have fewer sites this weekend, we have expanded the capacity in each of those sites,” Piercey said. “Not only more lanes but also more people.”

On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported the state has now seen 8,726 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 460 over Thursday’s numbers.

Across the state, there had been a total 808 hospitalizations and 4,370 recoveries. The state had 4,188 active cases as of Friday’s report. Labs in the state have performed a total of 131,298 tests as of Friday, up 8,198 from Thursday.

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