Coronavirus in Knoxville: Knox County Health Department announces phase two reopening will start Tuesday

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County Health Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said phase two of the Knoxville-Knox County reopening plan will start Tuesday, three days earlier than the plan initially set.

“The data supports this and we’ve heard from you that you’re ready to move forward,” she said. “As we’ve said, this is a community process.

“The pandemic is not over. The virus is not gone and the risk is still very real. The rules of the virus haven’t changed. … As we open up more places it will be even more critical that we all follow the guidelines and do our best to reduce transmission and continue to express compassion and understanding to each other.

“I feel good about the plan we put forward and the timeline.”

In phase two, most industries will be able to reopen while maintaining the five core principles of the reopening plan — practice social distancing, wearing cloth face coverings when in public and social distancing can’t be achieved, wash your hands properly and often, clean surfaces regularly, and stay home when sick.

Food truck parks, bars, indoor leisure facilities, child care facilities, day camps, pools, splash pads, community centers and libraries will be OK to reopen. Among the facilities that remain closed are overnight summer camps, senior centers and playgrounds. A full list will be made available Friday on the Health Department’s website.

Other changes to the guidelines include an increase in the number of people allowed to gather to 50 and the implementation of appointment and reservation systems for businesses to allow for easier contact tracing for those who could be exposed to the virus.

“In phase two, higher-risk individuals should continue to stay home as much as possible, follow the general guidelines for everyone through all phases and members of households with higher-risk individuals should be aware that by returning to work, other environments where distancing is not practical, they could carry the virus back home.

“This increase from phase one doesn’t change the need for physical distancing.”

Businesses should limit the use of common areas in workplaces, encourage telework to continue, and take health issues into consideration for employees who are at higher risk to contract COVID-19.

Appointments and reservations are encouraged so contact tracing will be possible if cases develop. Buchanan said new cases and clusters of cases are expected.

Reason for changes

The decision to make the move to phase two early and to reevaluate the 28-day minimum for each phase was the result of community input and data, according to Buchanan. As the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases among Knox County residents continue to decline, she said the task force is comfortable with the change after their discussion.

The Health Department continues to look at a rolling average of data over the previous 14 days to make decisions and can still make a change to “pull back” on the loosening of restrictions.

For that reason, Buchanan said it is important that the public continue to follow the principles and guidelines set.

“We are really relying, like we always do in public health, on the community making the choice to do the right thing to protect themselves, to protect their family, their friends, their loved ones and the rest of the community and asking businesses to do the same,” she said when asked about those who are not following guidelines even under phase one ignoring phase two protocols. “It is up to the community whether we move forward.

“It is not business as usual. This is not prepandemic business at all. The virus is still a very threat in our community. … We are still in a pandemic.”

Community input

More than 500 businesses and more than 5,000 individuals completed surveys on the reopening plans, she said. The addition of businesses taking contact information from customers either directly or by an appointment or reservation model was a suggestion from the surveys.

“I think it’s the right time,” Buchanan said of moving to phase two.

How phase two is working will be reevaluated on June 12 after the 14-day incubation period will have been completed from phase one, Buchanan said.

Task force meetings and Sunshine Laws

Buchanan also said the task force planning the reopening will open its meeting to be compliant with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. The meetings had previously been closed, but Buchanan said the legality of the closed meetings was brought to her attention and the meetings will now be open.

“That information was shared with me for the first time yesterday. … It was new information to me,” Buchanan said. “It is a big shift in how (the Health Department) operate(s).

“I have since spoken with the (Knox County) law office and we will be making changes to how we hold those meetings and make them compliant with the Sunshine Laws.”

Mayors Jacobs, Kincannon approve plan

“I want to applaud Dr. Buchanan, her team and the citizen volunteers of the Knoxville-Knox County Reopening Task Force for their dedicated service and guidance,” Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said in a news release emailed Wednesday before the briefing. “I feel the plan they’ve developed balances the needs for both healthy people and a healthy economy.”

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said she is grateful for Buchanan, the task force and the Health Department for their work and putting “the well-being of our community ahead of politics.”

“I’m looking forward to their release of some of the guidance for phase two this afternoon as it will enable our community to move forward and get more people back to work,” Kincannon said. “It’s important that we continue pushing ahead as a unified community as phase two gets fully underway. These smart, science-based decisions are crucial as we move through this pandemic. 

“I also want to thank the people and businesses of Knoxville. We are able to move from phase one to phase two because of everyone’s effort to follow the five core actions that limit transmission of this virus: washing hands, physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings, sanitizing surfaces and staying home if sick.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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