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Lee: Too early to see impact of opening economy, will not mandate adherence to health guidelines

Jonathan Roberts • May 6, 2020 at 7:03 PM

On a media conference call Wednesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said it’s too early to tell how the state’s economic reopening has impacted the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.

“I think it’s pretty early to determine the impact to the spread of this virus as a result of relaxing social-distancing restrictions,” Lee said, quickly clarifying that while restrictions are being lifted, “we are not relaxing social-distancing practices.”

“In fact, we need to implement those now, more than ever,” Lee continued. “The way to make certain that businesses operate safely and not have increased spread of the virus is to double-down on our social distancing practices, principles and efforts.”

Last week, restaurants and certain retail shops were allowed to reopen for dine-in service and in-person shopping, with the state creating the “Tennessee Pledge” to encourage shoppers to go to stores and restaurants that will enforce state guidelines for social distancing. The pledge, however, will not be enforced — meaning there is no recourse for a business operating anti to the state’s recommendation to only operate at 50% capacity, and ask employees to wear cloth masks and gloves.

In an interview with the Press earlier this week, Dr. David Kirschke, medical director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department said wearing masks is “actually more important than ever now that businesses and restaurants and things are opening back up, because we do expect a surge in cases of the coronavirus.” 

“Coronavirus still is circulating in Tennessee, and if we open up without maintaining social distancing, we’ll have a surge in cases that potentially could include having to consider future stay-at-home orders,” Kirschke said. 

During Wednesday’s call, Lee said the reason the state isn’t enforcing the public health guidelines, like wearing masks in public or the Tennessee Pledge, is because he doesn’t “want to start off with the premise that Tennesseans are not going to follow guidance.”

“I don’t assume people will not do what they’re asked to do,” Lee said, adding that Tennesseans “have been very diligent to socially distance.”

“I think what we’re going to find is what we have found for weeks now, is by-and-large the vast majority of Tennesseans — they want to follow the suggestions and the guidelines that will keep them and their neighbors safe,” Lee said, “and so it’s a guideline not a mandate.”

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