Gov. Lee announces end date to business shutdown
As the state’s top official in the struggle between saving lives and saving livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that his “safer-at-home” order will not be extended past April 30.
Facing mounting pressure from businesses and workers feeling the economic pinch of shutting down and staying home, Lee said the evidence that the state is managing the health side of the equation well is strong enough to begin reopening business. He noted, however, that does not mean an end to precautions and vigilance, saying the crisis will not be considered over until there is a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19.
“Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it,” said Lee.
He added, “For the good of our state, social distancing must continue – but our economic shutdown cannot. While we continue to emphasize social distancing for Tennesseans, I will not extend the safer-at-home order past April 30. And moreover, we are working around the clock to be certain that some businesses will be able to open as soon as Monday, April 27.”
Lee said he and the Economic Recovery Group, composed of 30 leaders from the public and private sector, is crafting guidance to assist businesses in a safe reopening and will outline those measures in the “next couple of days.” The industry representatives participating in the ERG collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5 million Tennesseans.
Lee said the vast majority of businesses in all but the six counties in Tennessee with the largest cities by population will be able to reopen by May 1. Separate plans are being made for Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties.
Lee also noted the announcement is in regards to businesses, so that “people could get back to work and stop the economic pain.” He said social distancing guidelines regarding other types of gatherings, such as sports events, would likely continue into the next several weeks at least.
He attributed the evident “success” of the state’s fight against COVID-19 so far to the “hard work of Tennesseans,” saying their efforts have paid off.
“For 17 consecutive days in Tennessee, we have seen only single-digit percentage increases in the number of cases in our state. Our hospitalization rate has consistently remained lower than national averages. And as of today, the number of recovered patients exceeds the number of active cases,” Lee said.
“We continue to flatten the curve in Tennessee. From one end of our state to the other, Tennesseans have done what we’ve asked them to do, and we’re seeing their hard work and their dedication to each other pay off. And we thank you.”
Lee also said he’s instructed state parks to reopen Friday, with details to follow. Full details on the those openings were not yet available by The Courier’s press time.
He added that the state has ordered more than 35 million pieces of personal protective equipment for front-line medical workers, and the state will continue to procure more as needed.
Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said, “Out of our 7,239 cases, we have had 3,575 recovered. The reason that is important, is that for the first time, the number of recovered cases exceeds the number of active cases. Essentially, that means there are more people who have gotten over the disease than have been infected.”
Speaking of the last day’s increase of active COVID-19 cases, from Sunday to Monday, Piercey said, “We do also know the 2.3% increase of day-over-day is our lowest ever, which means that now that we’ve had 17 days worth (of single digit percentage increases), it’s probably safe now, from a medical standpoint, to start relaxing that a little bit.”
Piercey also noted that the virus that causes COVID-19, and COVID-19 itself, is new within the human population and the medical community is constantly learning new things about both. She stressed continued testing, social distancing measures, and hygiene practices.
Not everyone agrees with Lee’s decision to reopen the state’s economy at this time.
Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pulmonologist in Franklin, Tennessee treating COVID-19 patients, and who organized a petition of 10,000 healthcare workers to urge Lee to first issue the shutdown order, disagreed with Lee’s announcement on Monday, as quoted by several media sources.
“COVID-19 can spread asymptomatically, showing no symptoms, for weeks and is highly more contagious than a typical flu and there is no cure or vaccine. Do you want to be the employer responsible for employees or patrons getting sick, or worse, dying?” Milstone asked.
Milstone said, “Rolling back health protections like the stay-at-home order without first the ability to quickly identify new cases, break chains of transmission, and protect first responders and health care workers from infection only jeopardizes lives and the economy and it goes against the very recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control announced today.”
Milstone urged Lee to ensure increased protections for healthcare workers, contract tracing from points of new infections, and rapid testing of possible cases are all in place before the reopening of business commences.
During his daily announcement Monday, Lee addressed those issues in response to a media question whether he was prepared to issue another shutdown if new cases begin to rapidly rise following the May 1 reopening of business.
Lee said that the COVID-19 Task Force, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Health, would be watching vigilantly for signs of the disease cropping up anywhere in the state, whether it be a community, city, county or region.
He said if any signs of a resurgence become evident, the Task Force and TDH will work swiftly with the local health department in that area to isolate infected individuals, take measures to trace their contacts, and step up testing in the area.