As he prepares to re-open the state, Gov. Bill Lee stresses importance of social distancing

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Next week Tennessee’s businesses will begin re-opening.

As Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday Tipton was one of 89 counties set to reopen on May 1 he reiterated the importance of social distancing.

“It is more true than ever today that our efforts in social distancing are important. They’re important so we can, in fact, open businesses. And we can, in fact, open the next phase and begin to move out safely into the community,” Lee said. “But the only way to do that is if Tennesseans remain committed to social distancing in whatever activity it is that you do and wherever it is that you go and whatever workplace that you find yourself entering … (social distancing) will be lifted as a mandate but it will not be lifted as something that is necessary for all of us to participate in.”

The remaining six counties are metro areas, like Shelby and Davidson counties, with county-run health departments. They will retain the authority to maintain or issue additional health orders.

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Lee issued his safe at home order on April 2.

Why next week? 

Less than a week ago Lee recommended the closure of schools all over the state, but Monday he announced the state’s businesses could begin re-opening as early as Monday, April 27.

Lee and Dr. Lisa Piercey, the commissioner for the state department of health, said the day-over-day percentages of increases in COVID-19 cases has been dropping.

“The day-over-day case count is now 2.3 percent, the lowest day-over-day increase since the state began measuring,” Piercey said. “Now that we have 17 days’ worth it’s probably safe, from a medical standpoint, to relax that a little bit.”

Tipton County’s cases have increased by an average of two per day, however they spiked from 56 to 83 Monday due to an outbreak at the Mason prison.

The state is currently graded at a D+ for social distancing, according to Unacast, which used traffic cameras and cell phone location data to determine Tennessee showed a 40 – 55 percent reduction in average mobility, 55 – 60 percent reduction in non-essential visits and a 40 – 74 percent decrease in encounters density compared to the national baseline.

Tipton County is rated a D- for the same metrics.

What will reopen next week?

Monday there was no clear-cut plan for re-opening the state’s businesses. Some businesses will reopen on Monday, April 27 and others on Friday, May 1, the governor said.

“We don’t know which businesses will be targeted for re-opening yet, but we will know in a couple of days,” Lee said. “It will be phased, it will be smart, it will be strategic … it will be safe and allow for the health of Tennesseans to be utmost.”

Guidelines will remain in place for social gatherings, he said, but he didn’t make any specific recommendations.

“This change is primarily around businesses. The economic difficulty that’s been created by this has been devastating.”

For the last month, hair and nail salons, barbershops, tattoo shops and gyms have been closed and restaurants have only been able to offer curbside and delivery service as part of an emergency declaration made on March 23.

The Economic Recovery Group, composed of 30 leaders from the public and
private sector, is crafting guidance to assist businesses in a safe reopening, Lee’s office said. The industry representatives participating in the ERG collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5 million Tennesseans, however only one person is a doctor and one more represented the hospital association.

Schools have been closed since March 20 and will not reopen this school year.

Lee said Monday was an encouraging day.

“What’s most important is these shut-downs occurred in order to save people’s lives. Tennesseans have done what Tennesseans needed to do, and that was to put in place the measures and follow those measures to do just what was necessary to stop the spread of a deadly virus. And they’ve done that. We certainly cannot entire stop it but to slow it to a point that we can manage that spread, the capacity on our healthcare system to take care of it and allow Tennesseans to operate and run their businesses at the same time. That’s the goal and I’m grateful Tennesseans have done what they’ve done to get us to the place where we are and we are encouraged to move forward.”