Governor’s office releases timeline ‘overview’ of state COVID-19 response


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Events that have unfolded before and since the novel coronavirus arrived to Tennessee in early March have been documented by many agencies including the governor’s office.

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee released an “overview of COVID-19 Actions Taken Since January 2020” that lists the dates of said actions in chronological order.

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According to Lee, early preparations made by state officials have put the state in a positive position.

However, the state’s COVID-19 case count continues to rise as does the unemployment rate — challenges that demand continued response.

“While the last 12 weeks have created unprecedented challenges for our state, our early preparations and the committed efforts of Tennesseans continue to put our state in a very fortunate position,” Lee said. “We will continue to address public health and economic challenges with a thoughtful, data-backed approach and I thank Tennesseans for their partnership in moving our state forward.”

Here’s the timeline overview shared by Gov. Lee’s office:

January 16, 2020

  • State Health Operations Center activated due to COVID-19, allowing for the Tennessee Department of Health to maximize capacity and available resources of the state’s metro and regional health departments. 

January 21, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health developed triage and surveillance processes and guidance.
  • Department began a healthcare provider call line to answer clinical questions and screen for laboratory testing at CDC.

January 23, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health distributed the first Tennessee Health Alert Network message on COVID-19 to all licensed healthcare providers in Tennessee.

January 24, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health developed and published the TDH Novel Coronavirus webpage.

January 31, 2020

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency for the United States.

February 7, 2020

  • Returning traveler monitoring implemented in Tennessee.

February 21, 2020

  • Tennessee State Public Health Laboratory validated the PCR test at the Nashville laboratory, becoming one of only five states in the nation to complete the verification of the CDC EUA COVID-19 test.

February 24, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health conducted the first COVID-19 test in the state using the CDC EUA test.

March 3, 2020

  • The state’s deadliest tornado in seven years hits communities in West and Middle Tennessee, killing 25 Tennesseans, injuring more than 300 and causing $1.1 billion in total damages. 

March 4, 2020

  • Gov. Lee announced the formation of the Coronavirus Task Force to enhance Tennessee’s coordinated efforts to prevent, identify, and treat potential cases of COVID-19. 

March 5, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health announces the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Tennessee.
  • TDH establishes a public information line, staffed by Tennessee Poison Center.

March 6, 2020

  • President Trump and Gov. Lee toured tornado damage in Putnam County. 

March 12, 2020

  • Gov. Lee issued Executive Order No. 14 declaring a State of Emergency to free up funds for the treatment and containment of COVID-19 

March 13, 2020

  • Gov. Lee issued further guidance regarding mass gatherings, schools, state employees and the State Capitol Building as more confirmed cases of COVID-19 were identified in Tennessee:

o    Congregations and groups are urged to consider alternatives to traditional services by utilizing live streams, pre-recorded messages, and other electronic means.

o    Events larger than 250 people are discouraged to limit exposure to COVID-19.

o    School districts have been advised to exercise discretion when canceling school for K-12 students. The state will provide further support for districts pursuing this action but urge districts to consider the prevalence of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their area. In partnership with districts, students who depend on school-provided meals will still receive this support, regardless of school closure.

o    State employees who have been trained and certified to work from home within the state’s Alternative Workplace Solutions program will work from home through March 31, 2020.

o    State employees have been instructed to cease all non-essential business travel through March 31, 2020.

o    The Tennessee State Capitol is closed to tours and visitors through March 31, 2020. Members of the media will continue to have access to the State Capitol building.

  • The Tennessee National Guard begins implementation of a comprehensive plan that balances the health protection of Soldiers and Airmen with mission readiness in the event they are called upon in support of Governor Lee’s state emergency declaration.  Upgrades to Health Protection Control – Level C (HPCON-C).

March 14, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health establishes a second public information line at TEMA.

March 16, 2020

  • Gov. Lee announced limiting all remaining legislative business to fulfilling the constitutional requirement of passing a balanced budget, and any associated actions that will ensure Tennessee can keep its doors open.

March 17, 2020

  • Lee urged all school districts in Tennessee to close by March 20 and remain closed through March 31. Gov. Lee announced that during this time the School Food Authorities will have the flexibility to continue to provide meals to at-risk students who rely on meals.
  • Lee also announced the following actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee:

o    Lee encouraged childcare facilities to remain open to support community needs and directed The Tennessee Department of Human Services to relax the regulatory burden on child care centers.

o    The state will provide $10 million in response and recovery grants to support existing childcare facilities.

o    The Tennessee Department of Human Services issued a policy offering emergency cash assistance utilizing TANF funds. Assistance will be up to $1,000 for families of five or more who qualify and who have experienced the loss of a job as a result of COVID-19.

o    The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is working to determine how to utilize the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The Tennessee Department will extend unemployment benefits to those quarantined by a physician for COVID-19.

o    The governor’s amended budget includes $200 million to provide specific relief to county and city governments.

March 20, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Health established COVID-19 assessment at rural local health departments.
  • The State of Tennessee received the Strategic National Stockpile allocation.

March 22, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 17 calling on businesses to utilize “alternative business models” and prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people. The order also:

o    Orders restaurants and bars to offer only drive-thru, take-out, or delivery, and permits closed-container alcohol take-out or delivery;

o    Temporarily closes gyms and fitness centers; and

o    Limits visitation to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care facilities.

March 23, 2020

  • Lee established a COVID-19 Unified-Command Group to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Department of Health, and Tennessee Department of Military. The Command will be led by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter.
  • The Tennessee National Guard established collection points at armories in 74 counties across the state to receive donated PPE and medical equipment for the state’s front line health care workers. 

March 24, 2020

  • Lee mobilized 250 members of the Tennessee National Guard, including 150 medical personnel, to assist TDH personnel with expanded testing across the state at 35 remote assessment sites in some of the most rural counties.
  • He extended work from home orders for state employees under the Alternative Workplace Solutions program, until April 24.
  • He extended statewide school closures until April 24.
  • He announced a series of administrative actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, including:
    • Delaying the deadline to file franchise and excise taxes until July 15;
    • Suspending the issuance of REAL ID through May 18;
    • Waiving emissions testing requirements through May 18;
    • Filing an emergency petition, in partnership with the Attorney General, an emergency petition asking the Tennessee Public Utility Commission to prohibit utilities from disconnecting services for non-payment during the state of emergency; and
    • Directing The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance to issue guidance to providers requesting flexibility for employers and individuals.

March 25, 2020

  • Lee announced the purchase of additional testing supplies using CDC funding.
  • The Tennessee Department of Human Services announced the use of emergency response and recovery grants for existing child care facilities, allowing churches, gyms, or non-profits to register with The Tennessee Department to open an emergency temporary child care facility.

March 26, 2020

  • The governor announced the creation of Tennessee Talent Exchange, a public-private partnership with the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, Tennessee Retail Association, and Hospitality TN to match out of work Tennesseans with companies currently experiencing business surges.
  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 20 to better mobilize health care workers, by:
    • Loosening restrictions around retired medical professionals returning to the workforce;
    • Temporarily suspending continuing education requirements so professionals can continue to work through the pandemic;
    • Calling for the availability of phone assessments for individuals with mental illness or emotional disturbances; and
    • Expanding telemedicine efforts.
  • He extended emergency cash assistance (TANF) for up to two months to families significantly impacted by COVID-19. Families who have lost employment or at least 50% of their earned income as a result of the pandemic are eligible.  
  • He announced the creation of the Talent Exchange, a public-private partnership with the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, Tennessee Retail Association, and Hospitality TN to match out-of-work individuals with companies currently experiencing business surges.
  • LaunchTN led an evaluation of technology-based solutions for data analysis on disease spread, contact tracing, collective impact, and community planning for disaster response.
  • The State of Tennessee Launched the “Do Your Part, Stay Apart” Public Service Campaign

March 27, 2020

  • TEMA coordinates to receive 25,000 sq. feet of donated warehouse space from Genesco Corp. to serve as a PPE and supply distribution point manned by TEMA and Tenn. Guard personnel.

March 29, 2020

  • The COVID-19 Unified-Command Group announced coordination with the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing to address the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility:
    • The transport of 23 residents to Sumner Regional Medical Center via an ambulance strike team of EMS Professionals on Friday, March 27;
    • Engagement of the National Guard on-site to assist with testing;
    • Isolation of staff members who tested positive; and
    • Deep cleaning and disinfecting of the facility.

March 30, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order No.22  issuing “Safer at Home” guidelines, which will remain in effect until April 14.
  • The Unified-Command Group announced the Tennessee Innovation Crowdsource Platform, a partnership with LaunchTN to sync together businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups to solve the challenges facing our state during this unprecedented time.
  • LaunchTN began discussions with Renfro, Corp, a global sock brand company, headquartered in Mount Airy, N.C., with a manufacturing and distribution operation in Cleveland, Tenn., to make cloth face masks available to as many Tennesseans as possible.

March 31, 2020

  • The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began working with behavioral health providers to expand service to individuals who need professional behavioral health help, including expanded telehealth services and mobile behavioral health care units.
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Tennessee’s request for a Section 1135 Medicaid waiver. The approved waiver enables Tennessee to provide flexibilities in Medicaid provider screening and enrollment, forgo certain pre-admission screening and annual resident review assessments, and allow for reimbursement facility services in alternative settings.

April 1, 2020

  • The governor announced coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare for a surge of hospitalizations.

April 2, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 23 requiring Tennesseans to stay at home except for essential activities.
  • President Trump approved Tennessee’s major disaster declaration, accelerating coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, and expanding statewide capacity by 7,000 beds.
  • The Tennessee Department of Health began registering volunteers for COVID-19 medical and non-medical responders using the Medical Reserve Corps

April 3, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 24, which:
    • Grants with Commissioner of Health authority to expand telemedicine and allow post-degree, pre-licensed mental or behavioral health professionals to treat patients;
    • Suspends and extends deadlines for filing and paying taxes and applying for tax relief;
    • Grants the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development discretion to require expedited information in processing unemployment benefits claims;
    • Extends the law against price gouging for an additional 15 days;
    • Suspends the expiration of marriage licenses;
    • Extends the deadline for law enforcement officers to complete certain introductory POST Commission courses;
    • Extends the due date for driver license reinstatement installment payments;
    • Provides flexibility for Tennessee Corrections Institute county jail plans; and
    • Suspends requirements regarding the deposit of funds at the walk-in state service location.
  • With shortages of personal protective equipment, Tennessee Department of Health creates Memorandum of Understanding with first responders to temporarily provide COVID-19 positive case information. 

April 6, 2020

  • Lee announced $200 million in grants to be distributed to every county and city government across the state for one-time, local expenses.
  • He announced $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to support hospitals.
  • The Tennessee Division of TennCare submitted a waiver to the federal government seeking matching dollars to address the uninsured population.

April 7, 2020

  • Lee announced support for the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers fully forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain payrolls.

April 8, 2020

  • The governor issued Executive Order No. 25, extending the postponement of elective medical and dental procedures until April 30.
  • He announced a partnership with HealthStream, a Nashville-based company that will provide quick and free training to retired or furloughed medical workers willing to rejoin the workforce to fight COVID-19.

April 9, 2020

  • Lee announced a partnership with Nextdoor to provide official, real-time information to Tennesseans about the state’s response.

April 13, 2020

  • At least nine dead, dozens hospitalized and 150 buildings damaged after storms and tornado rip through Hamilton and Bradley Counties.
  • The governor traveled to Chattanooga, TN to survey storm damage and visit with communities that were impacted by deadly storms. 
  • He issued Executive Order No. 27 extending the state’s Stay at Home Order until April 30.
  • He announced the development of the Economic Recovery Group to coordinate legislative leadership, local leadership, health care professionals, and industry representatives to reboot the economy.

April 15, 2020

  • Lee announced expanded COVID-19 testing in coordination with the National Guard, free to all Tennesseans, regardless of symptoms,
  • He called on schools to remain closed for the remainder of the academic year.
  • He Appointed Butch Eley as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration

April 16, 2020

  • Lee appointed the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell to lead the Economic Recovery Group.
  • He announced the creation of the Stimulus Financial Accountability Group to oversee the prudent fiscal management of CARES Act funding received by the state.

April 17, 2020 

  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 28, removing regulatory barriers to facilitate the treatment of COVID-19, including:
    • Extending the deadline for firefighters to obtain a medical examination;
    • Suspending the collaborating physician requirement for nurse practitioners and physician assistants;
    • Allowing nursing school graduates to work during the emergency order under the supervision of a licensed nurse;
    • Allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to write orders for home health services;
    • Expanding the facilities in which autopsies may be performed;
    • Allowing medical laboratory personnel to work from home in reviewing data and reporting results;
    • Protecting HIPAA information sent by the DoH to first responders and law enforcement personnel; and
    • Extending the price gouging law for an additional 15 days.
  • The Tennessee Department of Human Services announced new child care assistance to support families serving in essential workforce positions.
  • Lee announced expanded testing, with the Tennessee National Guard establishing 15 drive-through testing sites.

April 20, 2020

  • Lee announced that Tennessee’s Stay at Home order will expire on April 30th, and a vast majority of businesses in 89 of 95 counties will be allowed to reopen on May 1st.
  • Unified-Command Group tests more than 11,000 Tennesseans

April 21, 2020

  • Lee announced that the first four grants of a $10 million grant program were distributed to support hospitals facing financial strain.
  • The Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health Disparities Elimination provided an overview of efforts to engage minority communities seeking testing and treatment. Actions include:

·         Engagement of non-profits, faith leaders, legislators, and local leaders;

·         Expanded testing efforts to coordinate with local health clinics and safety-net clinics;

·         Focused resources to improve race and ethnicity data collection; and

·         Additional public service announcements focused on minority health concerns

  • LaunchTN convened an entrepreneur center alongside other Tennessee CEOs to formulate strategies to get entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups back to work. 

April 22, 2020

  • The Tennessee COVID-19 Unified-Command Group released data regarding the state’s long-term care facilities and outlined a plan for preventing future cases and mitigating present clusters of cases within these facilities.

April 23, 2020

  • Lee announced the following initial guidance on retail industry reopening:
    • Restaurants operating at 50% capacity and following Tennessee Pledge guidance will be allowed to open on Monday, April 27; and
    • Retail outfits operating at 50% and following Tennessee Pledge guidance will be allowed to open on Wednesday, April 29.
  • The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development issued an update on actions to support Tennesseans including system upgrades and benefit distribution.
  • The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers announced that most state parks will reopen for day-use only on Friday, April 24.
  • LaunchTN worked with the University of Memphis and Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Marie Williams to introduce a suicide prevention technology strategy for the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks joined Tennessee’s “Do Your Part, Stay Apart” Public Service Campaign.

April 24, 2020

  • Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group issued guidance to restaurants and retailers as part of “Tennessee Pledge,” the state’s rollout approach to safely reopening businesses in 89 of 95 counties.
  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 29, amending Executive Order No. 17 and allowing restaurants to begin reopening on April 27.
  • The Tennessee Department of Health established an Enhanced Testing Strategy team to coordinate laboratory testing for vulnerable populations including prisoners, staff and residents at nursing homes, and minority populations.

April 27, 2020

  • Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group released Universal Guidance for Tennessee Businesses, found here.
  • Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group issued safe reopening guidance for restaurant and retail industries. 
  • The Unified-Command Group announced the free testing of more than 7,000 Tennesseans – regardless of symptoms – at drive-through sites across the state.
  • Lee directed the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration to temporarily freeze any new non-mission critical hires to the state’s workforce.
  • He announced that elective medical procedures will be allowed to resume on May 1.

April 28, 2020

  • Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group issued guidance for gyms and exercise facilities to safely reopen beginning May 1.
  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 30, repealing Executive Order Nos 17, 21, 22, 23, 27, and 29. The Order will, among other things:
    • Maintain the prohibition on gatherings of 10 or more people, with the exception of places of worship, weddings, and funerals;
    • Allow certain businesses to return to work in compliance with health guidelines;
    • Mandate that entertainment and recreational gathering venues remain closed;
    • Provide guidance regarding limited service in restaurants and take-out and delivery of alcohol;
    • Provide guidance to nursing homes and like long-term care facilities regarding visitation; and
    • Outline requirements to the public writ large.

April 29, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 31, extending the prohibition of non-emergent dental services until May 6.
  • He announced that close contact services, such as salons and barbershops, will be able to safely reopen beginning May 6.

April 30, 2020

  • The Tennessee Economic Recovery Group issued guidance for close contact services to safely reopen beginning May 6.
  • The governor joined President Trump for a White House Briefing on protecting America’s seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • He announced that his Administration has been working with the Tennessee Medical Association to prepare for the expiration of Executive Order No. 25, and the resumption of elective and non-urgent medical procedures beginning May 1.

May 1, 2020

  • The Unified-Command Group announced a mass testing strategy for all Tennessee Department of Correction staff and inmates.
  • Lee’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives issued guidance for faith communities on safely gathering together in houses of worship.
  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 32, outlining plans to further mitigate COVID-19, including:
    • Waiving fees to obtain copies of business entity filings for purposes of seeking relief under a state of a federal program;
    • Extending the price gouging law for another 15-day period;
    • Allowing reimbursement for physical, occupational, and speech therapy via telemedicine for workers’ compensation recipients;
    • Allowing for discretion in the utilization of National Guard members in connection with TDOC operations or security;
    • Granting flexibility to the Commissioners of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities with respect to hiring requirements made difficult by COVID-19;
    • Allowing corporations to conduct remote shareholder meetings; and
    • Extending the deadline for qualified TNInvestco to file annual audited financial statements with the Department of Economic and Community Development.

May 4, 2020

  • Lee announced that more than 23,000 Tennesseans received free COVID-19 tests at more than 67 drive-through testing sites as part of the Unified-Command Group’s efforts to broaden testing access.

May 5, 2020

  • The Unified-Command Group announced two strategic partnerships to provide Tennessee households and health care workers with protective face coverings and PPE.
  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 33, allowing the safe reopening of close contact services.
  • Lee announced that, under guidelines set by the Tennessee Board of Dentistry and the American Dental Association, dental procedures will resume on May 6.
  • LaunchTN worked with the Economic Recovery Group to establish the Tennessee PPE Vendor Directory.

May 6, 2020

  • The Tennessee Economic Recovery Group released additional guidance for recreation, offices, lodging, construction and manufacturing, small group, and non-contact recreation businesses to reopen on May 8.

May 7, 2020

  • The governor issued Executive Order No. 34, allowing government bodies to hold meetings remotely until June 30.
  • He issued Executive Order No. 35, allowing the reopening of small group, non-contact entertainment, and recreational venues.

May 8, 2020

  • Lee announced next steps for Tennessee’s Unified-Command Group.

May 12, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order Nos 36 and 37, extending the state of emergency from May 18 until June 30.
  • The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the Tennessee Department of Health announced a collaboration to increase testing accessibility for intermediate care facilities and members of the Employment and Community First CHOICES program.
  • He issued Executive Order No.s 36 and 37, extending the state of emergency from May 18 until June 30.

May 13, 2020

  • Lee announced coordination between the Unified-Command Group and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) to provide free, voluntary COVID-19 testing, by Tenn. National Guard medics, for families and residents at 14 MDHA communities in Nashville.

May 14, 2020

  • Memphis 401-bed Alternative Care Site (ACS) at Commercial Appeal building completed.

May 15, 2020

  • The governor announced coordination between the Unified-Command Group, the Knoxville Community Development Corporation, the Knox County Health Department, and the Memphis Housing Authority to provide free, voluntary COVID-19 testing, by Tenn. National Guard medics, for families and residents at six KCDC properties in Knoxville and 5 MHA properties in Memphis.
  • The Economic Recovery Group announced the lifting of capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail effective May 22.
    • The Group also issued guidance to facilitate the reopening of large, non-contact attractions on or after May 22.

May 18, 2020

  • The governor announced the completion of the Memphis Alternative Care Site that can treat over 400 additional individuals. 

May 19, 2020 

  • Lee announced the final distribution of Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to support smaller hospitals that are facing financial strain due to the ongoing COVID-19 response. 

May 20, 2020 

  • Lee announced coordination between the Unified-Command Group and the Chattanooga Housing Authority to provide free, voluntary COVID-19 testing, by Tenn. National Guard medics, for families and residents at four CHA communities in Chattanooga.
  • The Economic Recovery Group issued updated guidance for restaurants and retail, along with new guidelines that enable attractions and larger venues to reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions on or after May 22.

May 22, 2020

  • Lee issued Executive Order No. 38, allowing groups of up to 50 people to participate in social and recreational activities while encouraging strong social distancing measures.

May 27, 2020

  • Lee called the State Funding Board to review economic projections and assess impacts of COVID-19 to state revenues and the budget. 
  • Healthcare Facilities Board unanimously approved new rules from the Department of Health requiring testing of all long-term care facilities. Once a nursing home has completed initial testing, each facility shall test all staff members for COVID-19 at least once every seven days beginning the later of June 30 or the date the facility completes initial testing.
  • Tennessee reached the milestone of testing 6% of the state’s population with 400,000+ tests conducted since March. 
  • First responders set to receive shipments of personal protective equipment to guard against COVID-19 transmission in the line of duty.

May 28, 2020

  • The Tennessee Economic Recovery Group issued guidance for noncontact sports, overnight camps, and Tennessee’s higher education institutions.
  • Metro Nashville General Hospital announced as Middle Tennessee alternate care site, providing 67 additional beds for low-acuity COVID-19 patients.


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