Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs outlines 6-week reopening plan from coronavirus shutdown

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has unveiled his proposal to begin a phased reopening of businesses, parks and places of worship that have been closed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Jacobs sent a copy of his plan to Gov. Bill Lee outlining a plan to return most businesses to “fully operational” in six weeks, so long as there are no negative changes in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“Gov. Lee’s decision to extend the safer-at-home order was made taking statewide numbers into account,” Jacobs said. “Knox County is one of 95 Tennessee counties and as long as our community continues to make good and responsible choices, I believe we can, and should, start taking steps to reopen businesses.

“The longer the economy is shut down, the more difficult it’s going to be to get it back on track.”

The news comes as the Knox County Health Department released its active coronavirus cases count at 35 on Tuesday, down from 36 on Monday. Jacobs cited the stabilizing numbers in his announcement.

Knox County ranks sixth in the state in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The proposal suggests that businesses should require sick employees to stay home, promote frequent handwashing and proper hygiene, and consider using face coverings if physical distancing isn’t possible.

Other guidelines target venues, restaurants and bars, retail stores, personal appearance businesses and health clubs, parks and playgrounds.

“It isn’t a choice between healthy people and a healthy economy, or it shouldn’t be,” Jacobs said. “The general public doesn’t need the government ordering an economic shut down so people will stay home.

“Those who are sick or in a high-risk category should make the choice to stay home or continue taking extreme precautions when leaving home. Everyone else should be able to return to work and take responsibility for making their own healthy choices.”

For the first two weeks under the plan, restaurants would be limited to half capacity or 100 guests, whichever is lower, and would require that tables be set 6 feet apart from each other. The capacity would increase to 75% or 150 patrons for the next two weeks and full capacity thereafter.

Bars would be limited to 10% capacity and no standing during the first two weeks of opening. The following two weeks would allow for 50% capacity, or 100 or fewer guests. Then the 75% or 150 customer threshold for two more weeks before resuming full operations.

Retail shops would be asked to use distancing markers for points of sale and limit the number of customers in their stores. Credit card docks and other high-traffic areas should be sanitized often and employees temperatures should be checked.

Barber shops, hair and nail salons, and other personal appearance businesses would be open by appointment only to limit capacity.

Gyms and health clubs would limit occupancy to five people per 1,000 square feet and allow people in only during staffed hours. No sick patrons would be allowed to enter and workouts would be limited to 45 minutes.

Jacobs said physical distancing won’t eradicate COVID-19 but it will mitigate the spread. The county’s release said county hospitals are “mostly empty and many health care workers are being laid off or dispatched to hotspot areas, some out of state.”

Jacobs also made a point to call out Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear for the handling of Easter services in that state. Worshippers at Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview were given citations after ignoring Beshear’s order against gatherings of 50 people or more.

“We are working with the Knox County Health Department and (health department director) Dr. Martha Buchanan to get guidelines in place to keep parishioners safe when our churches reopen, which we hope is sooner rather than later,” Jacobs said. 

“The pandemic is serious, and I certainly don’t want to underestimate it, but we must strike a balance between safety and violating outright any constitutional rights granted by the First Amendment,” he said.

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