KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Members of the Knoxville/Knox County Joint Task Force on Monday released a phased reopening plan of local businesses.

Knox County and the city of Knoxville will begin a gradual, phased-in reopening of businesses on Friday, May 1. Phase one of the three-part plan will allow most businesses to open with strict social distancing guidelines in place. Each phase will last a minimum of 28 days. 

RELATED: Knox County reports one less active COVID-19 case, one new hospitalization

The list of businesses that can begin the phased reopening on May 1 includes but is not limited to:

  • Daycares
  • Restaurants            
  • Salons
  • Spas
  • Retail stores
  • Gyms
  • Places of worship

The plan highlights the fact that the community will not immediately return to a pre-pandemic “normal” but instead outlines a three-phase approach to reopening.

“The plan is a carefully measured way to adapt the economy to a new normal until we have a vaccine,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said, calling the plan the “end of the beginning.”

“I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to flatten the curve. Now is the time to consolidate those gains and to remain vigilant.”

“We have been knocked down — hard — but we have to get back up,” Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to do it. Together we will do it.”

The full plan includes benchmarks that will be evaluated throughout each phase, a collaborative community process to help determine business protocols in future phases and a certificate program to recognize businesses that have successfully taken the safety measures spelled out by the task force.

Each business has specific protocols to follow that can be found here:

Mayor Jacobs said after Thursday’s announcement from Gov. Bill Lee opening some businesses immediately, he was willing to follow suit but after consideration with the city-county joint task force, he realized that more time was needed to develop a clear plan and create teams that can work with businesses more easily adhere to the guidelines.

“Here in Knox County, we are going to be more thoughtful and more deliberate,” Jacobs said. “Hopefully this will help businesses more easily navigate a changed environment and give them greater chance at success. In addition to ensuring public health, we want to minimize confusion and uncertainty so we can provide ample opportunity for a smooth transition as we get back to work.

“And that’s already paying dividends. For instance, because of the work of the joint task force in this plan, salons and other personal service businesses will be able to open weeks ahead of the rest of the state.”

Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan stressed it is not an immediate return to normal and compared it to a rockslide on Interstate 40.

“So now we’ve moved some debris out of the way and we have one lane for both east and westbound traffic,” Buchanan said. “It’s going to be slow, but we encourage patience because we’ll eventually get there where we eventually have a full flow of traffic both ways.”

Buchanan reiterated that the safer at home order that has been in effect since March 24 will continue until Wednesday, May 1.

“COVID-19 is not gone,” Buchanan said. “It’s still here. We still need to wear a mask. You still need to stay home when you’re sick. You still need to wash your hands regularly and clean surfaces regularly.”

The same data the Knox County Health Department has used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to make safer at home orders, like hospitalization rates, positive case rate and deaths, will continue to be used when determining when it is safe to advance or retreat from one phase of the plan to another. Ultimately, it will be up to individuals and businesses as to how they will implement the phases of the plan, Buchanan said.

The minimum length of each phase is based on the 14-day incubation period of COVID-19. Buchanan said while there is now a plan in place, it is subject to change and mid-phase adjustment are probable.

“We want to give ourselves enough time to see what was the impact of the change we made,” she said. “We’re not going to just put this in place and walk away.”

Mayors Kincannon and Jacobs said that they are unified in their message and will make decisions based on the recommendations of the Knox County Health Department.

Enforcement of plan guidelines will be up to the Health Department, business owners and business patrons. Buchanan said that about 75% of the businesses that will open are under her jurisdiction and that education is always the first step in getting business leaders in compliance.

“Nobody wants to be that business that has about a cluster (of COVID-19),” she said. “Nobody wants to be that business and so people are really willing and want to make this work.”

Jacobs and Kincannon thanked the businesses that helped in making the reopening plan and said the guidelines were written with input from business leaders in mind.

“The business owners I’ve spoken to, and I spoke into many in all different sectors, care deeply that their customers stay healthy and that their staff stays healthy because that’s not just the right and humane thing to do, it’s also good for their business,” Kincannon said. “I, for one, am not going to patronize a business until I’m confident that they are following the guidelines that are in this plan.”

The reopening plan was written in concert with city, county, business and health leaders.

Members of the task force include: Krista Bay, benefits director for Knox County; Kathy Brown, University of Tennessee Masters of Public Health director; Chris Caldwell, Knox County deputy chief of staff and senior director of finance; Katharine Killen, KCHD deputy senior director of strategy; David Miller, First Horizon Bank East Tennessee region president; Mike Odom, Knoxville Chamber of Commerce president and CEO; Ryan Steffy, SoKno Taco general manager; Stephanie Welch, Knoxville deputy mayor and City Council member.

“We all want this plan to succeed,” Jacobs said. “But ultimately it is up to us as individuals, organizations and businesses to make that happened. So even as we begin the process of getting back to work, we must continue to exercise personal responsibility to keep ourselves, our families and our community safe.”