Some Tennessee cities cautious on governor’s May 1 reopening goal


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Some of Tennessee’s biggest cities are not making any promises about starting to reopen their economies by Gov. Bill Lee’s stated goal of May 1, saying they are going to let data, not dates, dictate their roll-outs.

In Nashville on Tuesday, Mayor John Cooper said he could see the first phase of an economic reopening in early May, but the city would need to check off four requirements: a transmission rate of each person with COVID-19 spreading the virus to less than one other person on average; a 14-day downward trend in new cases; adequate testing and personal protective equipment; and sufficient capability to trace contacts with others for people who test positive.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland issued an order Tuesday to extend a so-called safer-at-home order by seven days, until May 5. Shelby County, which includes Memphis, has seen more than 1,800 cases and 39 deaths.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said Monday evening that if that city continues to see a “flattening of the curve,” she supports reopening the economy and gradually lifting restrictions “based on data, not dates.”

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Monday he will continue to consult experts and make a decision that’s best locally. The county that includes Chattanooga, meanwhile, is looking to reopen on May 1, and wants its cities to follow suit, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Tuesday.

Lee says his mandatory safer-at-home order will expire on April 30, which will pave the way for 89 out of the state’s 95 counties to begin opening businesses.

Lee’s announcement does not apply to the state’s counties with the largest cities, including Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan counties — areas that are not overseen by Tennessee’s Department of Health but which have their own public health districts.

Lee said he spoke Tuesday with the mayors in those counties, reiterating his pledge to help them decide when to reopen.

Some businesses will be allowed to reopen as early as April 27, but Lee has yet to say exactly which ones will be granted clearance.

There will still be restrictions: gatherings of 10 or more people will be discouraged, and visitors will still be restricted at nursing homes and hospitals until further notice.

Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the state has been focusing, day to day, on the number of people testing positive compared to the number of people tested overall. Eighteen days ago, she said the growth rate was at about 8 percent, and it’s been at 2 to 3 percent in the last few days, with some “blips” in between those days due to “targeted testing.”

As of Tuesday, the state confirmed more than 7,300 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 157 have died. More than 181,100 people have been tested in Tennessee so far, a small fraction of the more than 6.8 million people who live in the state.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in weeks. For some, it can cause more severe illness and even death.

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