You Ask, 6 Answers: What to expect when Knox County aligns with state coronavirus reopening plan


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Board of Health voted to align with the Tennessee Pledge, the state plan for reopening safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The reopening guidelines apply to 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Knox County will be included starting July 1st.

The Board of the Health opted to align with state guidelines because, “it makes sense for us to fall under the state, at this point,” according to Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.

Buchanan outlined the options for the county Board of Health in Wednesday’s meeting. The group of medical professionals, Knox County Mayor, and the Knox County Schools Superintendent are the final say on how Knox County moves forward with reopening.

What changes?

Voting to adopt state guidelines won’t change much. As part of the TN Pledge, restaurants will be required to screen anyone entering with a temperature check, ensuring guests are not dining with a fever.

Instead of outlined phases, like Phase 1 and Phase 2 rolled out as part of Knox County’s original local plan, the state releases new guidance periodically. The guidelines are then put into effect through a signed executive order by Governor Bill Lee.

“There are places where the Tennessee Pledge is more restrictive and there are places where it’s less restrictive,” Buchanan told the Board of Health in Wednesday’s meeting, held on Zoom.

Another change between local plans and state plans — the words used to describe recommendations for wearing cloth face coverings. In Knox County’s original phased reopening plan, it is advised that citizens “must” wear masks in certain situations where 6-feet of distance cannot be maintained; but in the state’s reopening plans, it is suggested that citizens “may” wear masks if 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained.

Both reopening plans use the same benchmarks to track progress.

Those include: Case load, public health preparedness, hospital preparedness, number of deaths, and testing.

Knox County’s “Five Core Actions” though not outlined by TN Pledge with the same title, are all included as part of state guidelines. Those include physical distancing, good hygiene, wearing a cloth face covering, washing hands, and staying home if sick.

“We speak with the Tennessee Department of Health regularly regarding our pandemic response and daily operations. However, as it relates to reopening procedures, the Governor’s Unified Command and Economic Recovery Group issues those. Locally, in Knox County, a representative from Mayor Jacobs’ Office is in contact with those groups.”

Knox County COVID-19 Joint Information Center

What’s next for Knox County

Specific Phase 3 guidance for Knox County had not been created yet, other than the one page of information at the end of the reopening guidance. The Board of Health was responsible for determining the next steps and how it was accomplished.

Right now, legally, there are no orders in effect, because the Board of Health was not convened and did not vote on Phase 1 and 2, according to Deputy Law Director Myers Morton.

“Only this board has the authority and power to issue those plans and benchmarks for reopening. It’s been out recommendation to the health department, do not exceed what the Governor orders,” Morton said in Wednesday’s Board of Health Zoom meeting, “Legally, if we do not exceed what the governor orders, Knox county is immune from lawsuits if someone wants to sue us for their liberties being taken.”

Knox County Health Department will update guidelines for those businesses that will be impacted by process changes on their website within the next two weeks.

In this time, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs says following any guidelines given by local leaders is “an act of compassion.”

“It breaks my heart to see all of the divisiveness currently in america. Covid-19 is really part of that. We get calls in our office people fussing because people aren’t wearing masks, people fussing because they are. We all need to remember we’re all in this together and we’re all one community,” said Jacobs.

The TN Pledge will go into effect in Knox County July 1st.

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