NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Gov. Bill Lee has issued a new executive order requiring that Tennesseans stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities as data shows citizens are not staying at home.
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“Over the last few weeks, we have seen decreases in movement around the state as Tennesseans socially distance and stay at home,” Lee says. “However, in recent days we have seen data indicating that movement may be increasing and we must get these numbers trending back down. I have updated my previous executive order to clearly require that Tennesseans stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities.”
Executive Order 23 will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. April 14, 2020.
Data from the Tennessee Department of Transportation analyzed traffic patterns for March 2020. While safer at home measures and further restrictions on businesses showed a steep drop-off in vehicle movement from March 13-29, data beginning on March 30 indicates travel is trending upwards, again.
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The Lee administration also analyzed data from Unacast to understand cell phone mobility and determine movement trends among people. Unacast indicates the movement of Tennesseans is trending toward pre-COVID-19 levels.
“The month of April stands to be an extremely tough time for our state as we face the potential for a surge in COVID-19 cases,” Lee said. “Every Tennessean must take this seriously, remain at home and ensure we save lives.”
Previously, Lee had only “strongly urged” people to stay at home, saying he was stopping short of a statewide mandate because he wanted to “protect personal liberties.” Lee received thousands of pleas from doctors and other medical professionals that a stronger order would help curb the virus’ spread.
Tennessee hospitals are anticipating a patient surge and are seeking more supplies, including masks, ventilators and beds. Officials worry the need for key supplies and medical staff will exceed capacity.
“It’s very difficult to know exactly when that surge is going to happen,” Lee said. “It has a lot to with the effects of social distancing, we know it works and we know that the strengthening of this order may impact that surge. That’s the hope. If we can push that surge out even a few days, it allows us to have access to more equipment, to get more beds built out, to have find more personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers, it’s all in an effort to flatten that curve. We don’t know when that surge will be, but we think potentially in the third week of April.”
Tennessee announced FEMA approved the state’s COVID-19 major disaster declaration. The action accelerates efforts to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to expand statewide capacity by an additional 7,000 beds, the state said.
Through Tennessee’s partnership with the Corps of Engineers, the state is assessing sites across Tennessee to build capacity and create Alternate Healthcare Facilities, according to a news release.
The Music City Center in downtown Nashville will be transformed into a COVID Positive Non-Acute Alternate Healthcare Facility, the state said. It will serve COVID patients who need hospital care but do not require critical care. The current plan for the Music City Center is to provide more than 1,600 Patient Care Spaces.
In Memphis, the Corps will construct a COVID positive Non-Acute Alternate Healthcare facility at Gateway Shopping Center. Additional sites in Memphis are being assessed.
The Chattanooga Convention Center and the Knoxville Expo Center will also serve as a COVID positive Non-Acute Alternate Healthcare facilities.
Medical staffing is also an essential need. The state is uring displaced or furloughed health care personnel to register on the Tennessee Department of Health website.
“While facilities are a key part of planning for a surge in COVID-19 patients, we need staff available to treat these patients,” Lee said Thursday. “We’re calling on all displaced of furloughed healthcare personnel in our state and beyond to register on the Tennessee Department of Health website to work together with us to address the challenges that we have ahead.”
(Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.)