Lee: Reopening state’s economy could mirror gradual federal approach

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 17, 2020 9:19 AM CT | Published: April 16, 2020 4:27 PM CT

Tennessee’s gradual reopening of the economy could mirror President Donald Trump’s plan, Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday, April 16, 2020.

Governor says economic reopening could focus on low-risk areas

At his daily update, Lee said he participated with other governors earlier Thursday in a call with Trump and during the call spoke about Tennessee’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I think the president and his team are headed in a very good direction,” Lee said.

A day earlier, the governor urged school systems to stay closed through the end of the academic year, even though he is calling for a plan to reboot the state’s economy in phases starting in May, based on the advice of medical experts, once a “safer at home” order expires April 30.

The governor noted that Trump’s plan for reopening the economy calls for starting with low-risk areas of the country and said the state could use the same sort of gradual reopening strategy. Most of the state’s counties have fewer than 20 cases.

Even as the state starts to reboot the economy, social distancing practices will remain important, he said.

“The more we stick to those social distancing practices as we open up, the more robust our opening can be,” the governor said.

A CNN report on the the president’s plan shows states should sustain 14 days of COVID-19 decreases and return to conditions in hospitals before the crisis struck before they reboot economies. Some Tennessee hospitals are furloughing employees because they don’t have enough business amid a state order prohibiting elective surgeries.

States also should have the ability to establish screening and testing sites and provide plenty of personal protective equipment to hospitals, according to the report.

Good hygiene such as washing hands and use of face coverings in public is encouraged, along with social distancing, temperature checks, testing and sanitation practices for employers.

A first phase of the president’s plan suggests schools remain closed, but it would allow large venues such as restaurants to reopen as long as they use social distancing protocol. Gyms would be allowed to reopen if they put social distancing guidelines in place, but bars would stay closed.

The president’s plan is not a mandate, and Trump is letter governors make their own plans after initially saying he had the authority, according to the CNN report.

As an Economic Recovery Group led by Tourism Commissioner Mark Ezell starts its work, the governor said Thursday he wants business owners to share information with the state on how COVID-19 is affecting their shops, which could help the state determine how the economy can open.

The governor said he is “encouraged” by the state’s progress in flattening the curve in virus cases.

Also during the briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Tennessee saw a 3.3% day-over-day increase in cases from the previous day, the lowest rate since the crisis began.

As for the economy, Lee said more extensive work on the state’s $39.4 million budget will begin when the legislature comes back in June, if that schedule holds.

Governor announces federal stimulus oversight committee

“This has not been going on very long, but we’re starting to see projections around revenue decline,” Lee said, noting revenue has declined significantly in the past few weeks. He said it is too early to know the full effect.

The governor predicted a long process lasting through the summer and into the next year to determine whether drastic spending cuts will have to be made or whether employees will have to be furloughed.

“Certainly, we’ll have to adjust the state’s budget to meet new revenues. … That will inform the decision-making process over the summer,” he said.

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Bill Lee COVID-19 Dr. Lisa Piercey
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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