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Lee orders Tennessee gyms to close, restricts gatherings and restaurant service

Johnson City Press • Updated Mar 22, 2020 at 10:15 PM

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Sunday urged residents to work from home and ordered bars and restaurants to close for 14 days starting Monday with the exception of drive-thru, take-out and delivery services in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lee’s sweeping order closed gyms and fitness centers from Monday until April 6. He also barred most visitors to nursing homes, retirement homes and long-term care facilities and prohibited social gatherings of 10 or more people.

Residents were told to work from home “where feasible,” but Lee stopped short of mandating that people shelter in place. They can go grocery shopping, pick up food orders and medications, and even exercise outdoors.

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

Dr. Aaron Milstone, a physician at Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, and Dr. David Aronoff of Vanderbilt University said on a teleconference Sunday that they have children who are in self-quarantines after returning from out-of-state trips.

They and other doctors fear that coronavirus cases could increase as college students come back from spring break trips in places like Florida.

“I still believe this is a fluid situation and we can do more,” Milstone said. “A shelter in place is required.”

The number of confirmed cases in Tennessee on Sunday rose to more than 500. A third of the cases are in Davidson County. Meanwhile, a second death was announced in the state. Vanderbilt University Medical Center confirmed the Saturday death of a patient with underlying health complications who was from a county adjacent to Nashville. The first death was confirmed Friday.

The order on bars and restaurants allows for the sale of unopened alcoholic beverages, including beer, for take-out or delivery orders as long as they are accompanied by food.

In Nashville, Mayor John Cooper on Sunday ordered that all nonessential businesses close for 14 days starting Monday.

All Tennessee schools are closed at least until the end of the month. Some plan on being closed later.

In the state’s largest county, Shelby County Schools announced Sunday that the YMCA will be taking over community meal distribution for students, two days after Superintendent Joris Ray said food preparation and distribution had been suspended because a central nutrition services employee tested positive for the virus.

Ray said the district, which includes Memphis but not a handful of suburban municipalities in Shelby County, is working to identify people the employee had been in contact with. In the interim, he asked for the help from the community to feed children while schools are closed.

The YMCA will begin offering free meals at more than 40 churches, community centers, libraries and other locations starting Monday. Shelby County Schools has an enrollment of about 100,000 students.

A statement from the school district said it received a “tremendous outpouring of support” from elected officials, community organizations and businesses after the suspension.

On Friday, a 73-year-old man in Nashville with underlying health conditions became Tennessee’s first fatality linked to the new coronavirus.

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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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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