Coronavirus in Tennessee: Gov. Lee sets guidelines for restaurants, retail while other industries still on hold

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Gov. Bill Lee unveiled his guidance and best practices plan to reopen the economy for 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Lee issued the first steps from the “Tennessee Pledge” at a news conference Friday morning.

Tennessee’s Unified Command Hub of the Emergency Management Agency and the state departments of Health and Military worked with Tennessee medical groups and regional leaders to develop the plan.

Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan counties are excluded from the plan and will set their own plans based on their county health departments.

Lee praised the sacrifices made by Tennesseans thus far to combat the pandemic and reiterated the need for people to remain vigilant and follow social distancing guidelines as the economic reopening is gradually phased in.

“Next week is important for Tennessee. You’ve heard me say it a million times but I will continue to repeat it: Social distancing works and it absolutely must continue if we’re going to reopen our economy safely.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

Lee also recommended businesses continue to allow employees to work remotely.

Retail, restaurants receive guidelines

The retail and restaurant industries were the first to receive guidance and Lee said further guidance will be released for other industries next week.

“Next week we will give additional guidance to gyms, churches, hospitals and physicians practices.”

Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee

Restaurants operating at 50% capacity and tables spaced 6 feet apart can open Monday, April 27. Retail stores operating at 50% capacity will be allowed to reopen Wednesday, April 29.

The state recommends that employees in both industries wear cloth face coverings and that business owners follow federal guidelines for hygiene and workplace sanitation standards related to the pandemic. The state recommends both industries create more opportunities for social distancing through curbside pickup and takeout services.

The state also recommends no live music at restaurants during this time.

MORE ONLINE: State guidelines for restaurants and retail businesses

The retail industry employs 170,000 Tennesseans in the 89 counties under the Tennessee Pledge, while the restaurant industry employs 150,000 in those counties. Gov. Lee said state officials predict a $5 billion loss in the state’s gross domestic product during 2020.

Closed contact businesses still weeks away

While retail stores and restaurants will be able to return at 50% capacity with guidelines in place, Lee says close-contact services will have to wait a little longer.

“Close-contact services will continue to be on hold for at least a couple more weeks. Barbershops, salons, tattoo and massage are services that are virtually impossible to socially distance while delivering,” Lee said. “We’re going to get those open as soon as we can, but we want to make sure we have appropriate guidance in place and we have an adequate supply of masks, gloves and other PPE before those businesses can open.”

Tourism still on hold, travel not recommended

Lee explained Tennessee Pledge’s strategy for the 89 counties helps avoid confusion for more sparsely-populated areas but also allows the state to work with the more populous areas with their own health departments. Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell admitted the path forward for tourist destinations is still unclear.

“We don’t know when we will have solutions for the tourism industry regarding tourist attractions.”

Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell

Ezell said the plan allows for thousands of workers in retail and restaurant businesses to return to work while the state coordinates with tourism destinations on an appropriate plan.

“We know right now we are not encouraging travel from other states to come into our communities,” Ezell said, “In this careful, phased approach our most important priority is the safety of all Tennesseans but also helping those Tennesseans who have lost their jobs have the opportunity to get back to work.”

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