NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency Thursday to help the state address the spread of the new coronavirus.

The emergency declaration frees up additional funds and relaxes rules surrounding assistance from state agencies to affected communities.

Lee made the announcement after saying earlier this week he did not believe an emergency declaration was necessary. Lee said Thursday that the situation had changed and the amount of COVID-19 case clusters had increased.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

As of Thursday, Tennessee had nine confirmed cases of coronavirus. Classes have been canceled in two large Tennessee school districts as a response to the outbreak.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray said Thursday that schools will be closed from Friday through March 27.

Students have their scheduled spring break and will be away from schools from Monday through March 20. Classes are canceled the following week, with students scheduled to return March 30.

Shelby County Schools has about 100,000 students in more than 200 schools. The school district will be using off days reserved for inclement weather to make up for the loss of instructional days, Ray said in a news release Thursday.

“Closing schools is never a decision that we take lightly,” the news release said.

Shelby County, which includes Memphis, has one confirmed coronavirus patient, but there is no current threat to schools, the statement said. One school employee who had contact with the Shelby County patient has been released from quarantine, Ray said during a news conference Wednesday.

Schools will undergo a deep cleaning during the closure. During the news conference, Ray noted that many students and their parents depend on meals offered at schools.

Schools in Davidson County, which includes Nashville, are closed Thursday and Friday. Universities and colleges in Tennessee have temporarily canceled in-person classes.


Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.


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