NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has issued a statewide “Safer at Home” executive order, urging people to stay home and stay apart, as well as, ordering the closure of businesses that cannot safely operate.

Lee says this is not a mandated “shelter-in-place” order, but rather a strong urging for residents in non-essential roles to stay at home. Governor Lee cited personal liberty reasons as to why the order was not a mandate, with a focus on protecting the state’s economy as well as its citizens.

“We need you to do that, to protect the lives of your neighbors, and to protect the lives of our citizens… we need you to stay home where at all possible,” said Gov. Lee.

State Order 22 signed Monday would close non-essential businesses still open such as hair salons as well as entertainment establishments across the state. Churches are exempt from the state order.

Lee said that the state will work with businesses to embrace alternative business models and encourage them to work alongside Launch Tennessee to switch operations into creating personal protective equipment.

Capitol officials earlier on Monday told News 2 the governor was ready to announce a statewide “shelter-in-place” order. Governor Lee has been resistant to a statewide order since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked Monday what made him think that people in the state would listen to his order, Gov. Lee said this latest announcement “substantially changes the activities” and gives citizens “no reason to travel.”

“We’re closing non-essential businesses in every county in this state,” said Gov. Lee.

A group of statewide doctors have criticized Gov. Lee’s attitude toward the pandemic and have been calling for him to do more to protect the citizens of the state. In a statement released to News 2 on Monday, the group of doctors questioned how many deaths would it take for Gov. Lee to listen to them.

“Gov. Lee’s failure to act early and listen to the plea of doctors has allowed things to get worse in our state,” said pulmonary specialist Dr. Aaron Milstone, “This order doesn’t go far enough to save lives and keep Tennesseans in their homes.”

Dr. Milstone says Gov. Lee’s leadership has “created confusion,” and is “undermining the strong, early steps many of our cities’ mayors took to protect families.”

“Now some Tennesseans are separating from others, but many ARE NOT — and this means this virus keeps spreading. Urging separation is not enough,” said Dr. Milstone.

Doctors are especially critical of the Tennessee Department of Health’s stance on the pandemic, including advisements that healthcare workers use diapers as masks and to appeal to the public for equipment.

The group says they have 2,000 healthcare workers and 27,000 residents across the state petitioning the governor to do more.

“The way we prevent transmission of this virus boils down to individual decisions that we choose to make,” said Dr. David Aronoff, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “We have seen in just a short period of time acceleration to the amount of guidance and the executive orders that have been put in to try to protect the citizens of the state and I wouldn’t be surprised if more need to come out if we seem to continue to see the same trajectory we are facing now.”

Dawn Cornelius with the Nashville Area Chamber says these have been very tough times for businesses, but the changes are necessary.

“The financial impact that this is having can’t be understated, but in addition to that the health and safety of our community and individuals is critical,” said Cornelius.

Meanwhile, state officials are praising Gov. Lee for his actions, including Lt. Governor Randy McNally and Senator Lamar Alexander.

“From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Lee has been deliberate and careful in his approach. This threat changes from day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. I appreciate Governor Lee’s ability to remain data-focused and flexible. Today’s order is a big step but a needed one at this time. Most population centers in our state are already operating under these conditions. Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. The most important part of this order is that it sends the message the governor has been sending for many days now in no uncertain terms: stay home and stay apart.”

Lt. Governor Randy McNally

“Painful as it is, Governor Lee is right. Everything I’ve learned as chairman of the United States Senate health committee persuades me to support his decision. Staying at home is an essential step one in containing the disease and saving lives. New federal laws will help keep many payrolls coming and relieve some financial burdens. I am hard at work on step two, a new ‘Manhattan Project’ to produce the largest possible number of COVID-19 tests with quick results that will detect and isolate the few who are sick and care for them so the rest of America can go back to work, back to school and out to eat. At the same time, Congress has already put $11 billion into step three: a massive effort to create treatments and hopefully a vaccine.”

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee)