Parkinson, Coley urge stronger action by governor

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 31, 2020 5:43 PM CT | Published: March 31, 2020 5:43 PM CT

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson says Gov. Bill Lee needs to stop walking a tightrope between public health policy and economic devastation and “shut it down” during the COVID-19 crisis.

Lee makes statewide ‘safer at home’ request, closes nonessential businesses

Lee issued a statewide “safer at home” request Monday, March 30, and ordered all nonessential businesses to close for two weeks, reacting to the spread of the coronavirus into 77 of the state’s 95 counties.

<strong>Antonio Parkinson (left) and Jim Coley</strong>

Antonio Parkinson (left) and Jim Coley

Parkinson wonders if the governor “was confused” about the difference between a “safer at home” and “shelter in place” order, though Lee acknowledged his request was not a mandate.

“My concern is the urging language instead of directing and giving some strong, decisive leadership,” said Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat. “These numbers are not getting better, and I don’t think we have to settle for the amount of deaths that are being predicted for Tennessee or for the country. I think they need to just tell people what to do. Shut it down. Shut everything down so we can get through this and get back up and get the economy back up.”

Tennessee exceeded 1,800 cases, and Shelby County reported 405 cases Tuesday, including three deaths.

Lee said Monday he opted against a “shelter in place” order because of the importance of protecting personal liberties. Some 2,000 physicians had requested he order Tennesseans to stay at home, except for essential needs such as trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor’s office.

The governor also signed an executive order to close nonessential businesses, those unable to operate safely during the COVID-19 crisis, such as barber shops, salons, body-art and tattoo shops, recreational businesses and entertainment outfits, including amusement parks, skating rinks and racetracks. But the list of businesses allowed to remain open is lengthy and appears to keep nearly everything going except some retail stores and a few other types of shops in which people could come into close contact.

State Rep. Jim Coley, a Bartlett Republican, takes the same view as Parkinson, saying Lee needs to be “more assertive” and increase closings. He’s concerned Tennessee could wind up in the same situation as Louisiana, where about 185 people have died.

“I think he needs to be more aggressive, particularly for people who are vulnerable,” said Coley, who has been isolating himself for more than two weeks and didn’t attend the final week of work at the Legislature in Nashville. Coley technically died twice before running for re-election in 2018 and continues to have failing health and is not seeking another term.

Coley is most concerned about the uncertainty of the coronavirus and whether its spread into South America and Africa.

General Assembly votes on budget, leaves Nashville

The Legislature is scheduled to go back into session June 1. But Coley said he wouldn’t be surprised if a quorum failed to show.

State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, a Collierville Republican, agreed with Lee’s move, saying it was “necessary.”

Mayors in Shelby, Memphis, Collierville, Arlington, Bartlett and other small cities in Shelby County had already made “safer at home” declarations.

“I think it’s good to have consistency throughout the state because what happens is just because the urban cores have ‘safer at home’ orders, yet the perimeter counties don’t, the perimeter counties will still be sending patients to the hospitals located in the urban core,” Vaughan said. “And so it does make sense that everybody stays on a uniform policy.”

Balancing economic damage against public health risks is difficult, Vaughan added. But is people have a safe work environment and can maintain social distance while still accomplishing the work, he said it’s important for the economy to continue moving.

Vaughan concedes his head is getting “a little shaggy,” but he doesn’t trust anyone to cut it other than his wife. And she doesn’t want to cut his hair.

Still, other businesses can isolate employees and vendors so they don’t contact other people, he noted.

“I understand the constant weighing of cost and benefits of both keeping a business open and public health,” Vaughan said.

State Rep. Mark White, an East Memphis Republican, agreed with Vaughan in backing the governor’s move, saying he’s not quite ready to support anything stricter than a “safer at home” request.

“I know he’s been trying to find a balance,” White said. “We can see now we’re in this for a long haul, at least another six weeks ... and being concerned about people getting a weekly paycheck.”

Federal unemployment funds should supplement state unemployment payments to help people ride out the emergency, he said.

Shelby County up to 405 cases, including 3 deaths

Lee previously shut down gyms and restaurants, except for those capable of doing drive-thru or pickup orders. He also limited gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

President Donald Trump floated the idea last week of reopening the economy April 12. But that met resistance from public health officials, and he has since set an April 30 target date to lift restrictions on nonessential businesses.

Parkinson contends making those types of predictions are fruitless when people are dying and the number of cases is rising.

“It’s amazing how arrogant we are as humans … when we’re fighting against something we can’t even see,” Parkinson said.

The state and nation are also battling human nature and people’s desire to be social and move around instead of sitting in their homes.

“I think we need a little humbling, and we need some good leadership to be strong and decisive for the sake of lives in our state,” Parkinson said.

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Antonio Parkinson Jim Coley Kevin Vaughan
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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