Restaurants, retail stores to reopen in 89 counties

On-site dining at restaurants is no longer prohibited in Tennessee, unless prohibited by a locally run county health department.

Gov. Bill Lee has issued the first steps from the ‘Tennessee Pledge,’ the state’s rollout of guidance and best practices for Tennessee businesses in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to keep employees and customers safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first industries to receive guidance through the plan include the restaurant and retail industries.

“Tennesseans pulled together to flatten the curve, and it is time for people to begin to get back to work and back to their businesses,” Lee said. “We are pursuing a careful, measured approach to reopening our economy that does not depend on heavy-handed mandates but instead provides practical tools for businesses of all sizes.”

Lee underscored the Tennessee Pledge plan for safe economic recovery is supported by data showing Tennessee’s curve of novel coronavirus infections hitting a plateau. Lee also pointed to the unsettling economic reality COVID-19 has created in our state.

Tennessee has seen the average daily growth rate remain stable for 14 days, in addition to a steady downward trajectory in positive tests as a percentage of total tests since April 1. The state has also had a massive ramp up in testing, included open testing available to all Tennesseans across 33 sites over last weekend, this weekend, and the next.

On the economic front, 15% of Tennessee’s workforce filed unemployment claims as of this week—more than 400,000 people. State officials predict a $5 billion loss in the state’s gross domestic product during 2020.

Lee said the announcement is the first step in a phased reopening of the state’s economy, which entails rebooting industries as they are safe to pursue in 89 of the state’s 95 counties. The state is working with Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan on plans to reopen businesses in those counties. Lee added that many Tennesseans are facing not just potential sickness but crippling financial hardship, particularly in the service industries.

Tennessee restaurants were able to reopen Monday at 50% occupancy. Additionally, Tennessee retailers were able to reopen on Wednesday at 50% occupancy. 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.

“Like the rest of the country, Tennessee has taken an unprecedented economic hit with families and small businesses feeling the most pain,” Lee said. “We must stay vigilant as a state, continue to practice social distancing, and engage in best practices at our businesses so that we can stay open.”

Lee’s administration assembled the Tennessee Economic Recovery Group, pulling together the state’s departments of tourism, economic development, and revenue, members of the Tennessee General Assembly, and business leaders to safely reboot Tennessee’s economy. The group is chaired by Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell.

Ezell said the state’s guidelines for restaurants and retail stores were developed in cooperation with business leaders in both sectors, mayors from across the state, and members of the legislature and health experts, as well as Unified Command that includes the Tennessee Department of Health. He added the reopening of future sectors would be accomplished with similar input from industry leaders and elected officials.

“We need Tennessee businesses, workers, and consumers to step up and pledge to follow these guidelines,” Ezell said. “It is critically important that we maintain our commitment to social distancing and adhere to these new guidelines so that we can continue to reopen our economy.”

Sen. Jeff Yarbro

Sen. Jeff Yarbro questions reopening of businesses

Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) has called into question the governor’s approach to re-opening up Tennessee’s businesses.

“The governor has adopted a laissez-faire approach to re-opening: no enforcement, no detailed requirements, and limited industry-specific direction, beyond restaurants and retail,” said Yarbro.

“The safety of Tennessee’s re-opening, as the governor stated, will rely on consumer and business choices.

“Responsible Tennessee businesses cannot just flip the switch back to ‘on’ without re-thinking how they do business with the ongoing COVID threat. I know lots of businesses who’ve been working on this, but every business will need to weigh not just when but how to re-open on-site operations.

“These aren’t mere business decisions but ones that will affect the health of employees, customers, their families, and the larger public.”