TN Tourism Commissioner visits Sevier County, talks next steps for reopening

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SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Another phase of Tennessee’s reopening plan went info effect Friday, allowing non-contact recreation businesses to reopen with limited capacity.

On the same day, Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Mark Ezell was in Sevier County speaking with businesses impacted by COVID-19 closures.

Sevier County is one of 89 counties included in Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order that outlines the rules and safety measures to follow to safely reopen the state.

The Economic Recovery Group released additional guidance on Wednesday for Recreation, Offices, Lodging, Construction, and Manufacturing businesses in Tennessee. Small group, non-contact recreation businesses like bowling alleys, arcades, dance classes, water sports, mini-golf, and more.

Guidelines following the Tennessee Pledge recommend capacity limits, spacing requirements, and frequent sanitization, among others.

“They’ve recommended 50% but we’ve really taken that a step further and are starting out around 15% capacity,” said Josh Mayberry, Vice President of Marketing for Crave Golf Club in Pigeon Forge.

The indoor/outdoor mini-golf facility opened Friday with those added health and safety guidelines to keep their employees and customers safe. That includes temperature checks for anyone entering the building and outlined social distancing markers on the floor throughout the building demonstrating 6-feet of space.

“We’ve got an A and a B shift so no two teams will be working together in case something does occur,” said Mayberry.

Within the first three hours of opening, guests were already following the guidelines without issue.

“It’s nice that they’re doing stuff like this so that people don’t have to be stuck in their homes and stuff like that, being able to get out and about and enjoy their lives again,” said Gregg Mckinstry, a newlywed on his honeymoon in Pigeon Forge from Kentucky.

Crave Golf Club is implementing other cleaning and sanitation procedures, too. Mayberry says the building was thoroughly cleaned during the month they were closed.

Tourism Commissioner explains phased reopening process

Ezell is also the director of the state’s Economic Recovery Group (ERG), tasked with creating the plan that will allow the state to safely reopen.

“There’s over 200,000 businesses  in Tennessee, so where those industries would fall in a phasing section is a challenge. What we chose to do is try to open up to where we could first do it safely and with health officials leading us in those guidelines. Then second, what could create the most jobs in various segments?” said Ezell.

When the ERG was first established, Ezell said there was a 30-member group that included 15 associations. Those associations represented over 100,000 businesses and 2.5 million workers.

Ezell says the biggest challenge for the ERG was addressing each industry and determining how each business within those industries could implement the necessary health and safety guidelines.

“There are still businesses in Sevier County that are on the not now list but what we want to do if we successfully do phase one then were able to expand and continue,” said Ezell.

Ezell says the success of one phase benefits others.

“Dollywood can open in a safe way, we believe, over time, as we continue to do a good job with the Tennessee Pledge.”

Mark Ezell, Tennessee Tourism Commissioner

Guidelines also suggest larger venues and activities where social distancing is not feasible should remain closed.

On Your Side: Where to find masks for businesses

The ERG compiled a list of vendors that can produce and sell cloth masks for businesses in need of more masks for employees.

The list of personal protective equipment (PPE) vendors that are offering products to assist in following CDC or Tennessee Pledge guidelines can be found here.

Companies are encouraged to maximize securing PPE through normal distribution channels, and these vendors may be able to supplement such normal channels.

The Knox County Health Department said they have received a shipment of cloth masks from the state and will begin distributing them on Wednesday.

The public can visit the KCHD building at 140 Dameron Ave during business hours to obtain a mask while supplies last. One mask will be given per person and you must be present to obtain a mask. Officials reiterate that these are not medical masks and they should not be used for medical or commercial use.  

All business owners are eligible for up to 10 free thermometers from the state to screen employees returning to work.  

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